Picks and Pans Review: Sniper

updated 02/08/1993 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 02/08/1993 AT 01:00 AM EST

Turn Berenger, Billy Zane

Somewhere in all these shadows, plot confusions and dizzyingly chaotic sequences lurks an adrenaline-pumping, invigorating and diverting action film about two American marksmen assigned to kill Colombian drug traffickers trying to infiltrate Panamanian politics.

Director Luis Llosa captures the confusion and terror of jungle combat. He captures it so well, in fact, that it's often hard to tell what is happening.

The movie's subtext involves the conflict between the two Americans, Berenger, a Marine sharpshooter who has killed 74 people, and Zane, a National Security Council operative whose main credential is an Olympic medal in riflery. Berenger, of course, scoffs at Zane's lack of jungle-fighting experience, not to mention his insufficiently bloodthirsty approach to killing people.

The villains are seen mostly through Berenger's and Zane's telescopic sights and the mini-telescopes they use to help see their targets. Michael Frost Beckner's screenplay also keeps tossing in inexplicable sub-skirmishes; at one point, Berenger and Zane seem to be stalking each other rather than the bad guys.

Zane's frail, yuppie look keeps him from ever mustering much authority as an assassin (as killing machines go, he is more cappuccino maker than meat grinder).

Berenger is another story. If Harrison Ford is today's John Wayne, Berenger is our Gary Cooper. His athleticism and grim, intense aura of integrity make him easy to root for in this kind of running battle. It would help, though, if the movie made it clearer who was trying to do what to whom, and why. (R)

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