Sniper: Rogue Mission was directed and written by Oliver Thompson (Welcome to Happiness, Sniper: Assassin’s End) and stars Chad Michael Collins (Dead Zone, High Moon), Ryan Robbins (Apollo 18, Scorched Earth), Sayaka Akimoto (Bikuu: the Movie, Ultraman Saga), Jocelyn Hudon (V for Vengeance, Safer at Home), Dennis Haysbert (Far from Heaven, The Unit), Brendan Sexton III (Faceless, Don’t Breathe 2), Erik Athavale (Breakthrough, Steel), Paul Essiembre (Welcome to Sudden Death, Rescue Heroes), and Josh Brener (Baked in Brooklyn, Silicon Valley). It follows a trio of skilled operators as they take down a federally operated sex trafficking ring.
The Plot: Timely, isn’t it? Politicians, G-men, and those adjacent to them (i.e., Ghislaine Maxwell) being outed as having aided sex traffickers make for a bizarre and arresting series of discoveries in real-time, but in this outing of the Sniper franchise, the material comes across as routine; slotted into a trope-filled action plotline that doesn’t treat its scenario with enough grace.
In-media res, we’re shown a cleanup on camgirls of sorts executed by Gildie (Sexton III) and Dax (Athavale) that DHS operator Zero (Robbins) arrived too late to stop. At the same time, newly-minted CIA agent and sniper Brandon (Collins) arrests Cusamano (Essiembre) the Deputy Chief of Border Patrol who was meeting a CEO in London – a CEO that also happens to be a sex trafficker – if a hunch is to be believed, and it obviously is.
From the first few scenes, it becomes clear that this is a pulp narrative meant to be wish fulfillment taken from the headlines. That’s fine, however, it begs the question of what this story is doing in this particular franchise and why it’s being handled with such a nonchalant tone. These questions aren’t answered.
Sole survivor of the massacre Mary Jane (Hudon) is aided by Zero, but, after a failed assassination attempt by Gildie, is labeled a threat by the government. It doesn’t really matter that the destination is clear as day, it matters that it’s so contrived. Brandon ends up with the escapees after being let go by Stone (Haysbert) and they track down Lady Death (Sakimoto) and utilize hacker Pete’s (Brener) skills to find and take down Cusamano, his goons, and the operation. It’s a story littered with cliches and contrivances, and while the franchise hasn’t been known for its originality, it was at least competent until this point.
The Characters: It should be a blessing for Sniper: Rogue Mission to be the ninth movie in the series, allowing it to lean on established characters. Thompson instead takes several steps back, dismantling the strong starting points of the recently added characters and making a caricature out of the staple star.
Brandon used to be a semi-serious marksman in the same way his father is; slightly naïve but proficient, patient, and willing to forgive faults and mistakes from those who surround him. He was never a complex character, but here, he’s constantly joking about his recklessness, balking at authority, and having awkward discourse with anyone around him. It’s a complete eradication of whatever development there was before.
Similarly reduced to stilted comedy are Zero and Lady Death. The former gets very minor development in his recent divorce and witness to his ex-wife’s remarriage, but he’s just another butt of jokes here. Lady Death is living off the grid after the previous movie, making ends meet as a waitress, and wants to be left alone. The question of how she got there is glossed over and her character is, again, reduced to jokes aside from one moment where she discusses her past.
Cusamano is a slimy enough villain, though will be rote to many who see him. The goons he employs are bumbling idiots though, making the matchups a non-issue. Performances are difficult to watch here, as Collins, Robbins, and Akimoto are visibly struggling to bring something to the table, Athavale overacts to the extreme, and Hudon is expressionless with a wavering accent.
The Action: Since the series has gradually morphed into a vehicle for action instead of suspense, it’d be a good bet to assume that Rogue Mission would keep furthering the change. It doesn’t though, as almost nothing of note happens until an hour into the movie.
Mowing down camgirls could’ve made for a compelling showcase of darkness if handled the right way; by offering an uncomfortable look at the terrible treatment the women and girls who end up doing these strip shows have to deal with until being taken out with no hope of escape. Thompson doesn’t recognize the ugliness at hand, instead opting to show the girls being killed in slow motion with a pause for effect. It’s still a startling scene, but it’s not empathetic in the slightest.
Until the first hour arrives, the movie slows to a crawl, and when the action does return, it’s as bad as it was before. Brandon and Zero have set up a plan to have Mary Jane meet with the man that let her go with supervision from Lady Death so they can learn who the killers are. Dax and Gildie have their own plan: wait for the meetup to happen, assuming Zero will step into the frame, and take anyone aiding Mary Jane out.
Surefire sequences like this should be tense, but this one overstays its welcome before anything happens, and the ensuing action is boring, stiffly choreographed, and limp, aside from a fight in an elevator.
Sniper: Rogue Mission’s finale isn’t much better, but it’s a marginal step up from the dullness that came before. A shootout at a port, cliche as it is, works well given the human trafficking premise and has a cool moment where Zero has to make a difficult shot with a weapon he’s never used before. It all plays out as one would expect, but at least it has a pulse, unlike the other 75 minutes.
The Technics: For the last eight entries, the Sniper franchise has dealt with the limitations of low-budget filmmaking. Some of the sequels have surpassed expectations and came out with the construction that rivals at least mid-budget entertainment, while others get stuck in the rut. Rogue Mission falls into the latter category.
The lightness of tone is the chief problem here. Although Assassin’s End had its moments of levity, it wasn’t an outright comedy; Sniper: Rogue Mission, however, is. Maybe Thompson took the mostly positive critical reception of his previous script as the freedom to go off the rails, or maybe this was just a massive misfire, either way, the jokiness of the movie doesn’t gel with its subject matter or fit in with prior installments.
Directorially, this movie suffers from hyperactivity, even when nothing is happening. Thompson hardly ever lets the frame rest, constantly cutting to reverse angles, close-ups, crash zooms, and so forth. There’s a clear attempt to replicate the visual style of the last movie, but the director can’t manage to come close.
Another problematic choice at the hands of the writer/director is the score, which he also created. It too is confusing, switching from upbeat soft rock to western-inspired drums and brass at the drop of a hat, never finding a suitable sound for any scenes. Sniper 9 is best compared to ADHD as far as the technical decisions go.
Sniper 9(!!!) is a weak movie in every regard. The leads are admirably attempting to roll with the bad script, and the finale is entertaining enough, but the movie is a mess. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a franchise’s level of quality drop so severely in the course of two movies.