Matty saddles up with one of very best Fred Olen Ray flicks.
Made within the same eighteen month period as the excellent Operation Cobra, and the thoroughly enjoyable Hybrid, Bikini Hoe-Down, and Masseuse 2, THE SHOOTER is another terrific Fred Olen Ray flick from the B-movie maestro’s 1997 slate — a year of particularly good vintage (he drops marks for the surprisingly tedious Rapid Assault, mind). Standing as one of the prolific helmer’s very best films — if not, indeed, the best outright  — The Shooter is a brilliantly scripted and handsomely mounted western packed with riveting performances, gorgeous visual design, and precise direction.
Having flirted with the genre before in Armed Response (1986) — a tough, two-fisted tale with an ending that was, for all intents and purposes, High Noon (1952) in Chinatown — and having previously passed on The Shooter’s production company, Royal Oaks’, earlier oater Hard Bounty (1995) , here, Ray seizes the chance to finally play in the cowboy sandbox proper. Though an old-fashioned affair free of the kind of reflexivity, revisionism, and deconstruction indicative of the bigger, studio-backed horse operas of the period (cf. Unforgiven (1992), Tombstone (1993), and The Quick and the Dead (1995)), Ray has tremendous fun noodling with western iconography. Everything he puts before the camera is lovingly rendered and reverential: the shots of spurs and spilt Colt rounds; the Leone-esque extreme close-ups of eyes and holsters; and numerous slo-mo falls and tumbles as baddies are thumped and popped. Class and elegance are the order of the day, and Ray’s nods to the likes of High Plains Drifter (1973) and a veritable wagon-load of other ‘gunfighter’s last ride’-type flicks augment The Shooter’s respectful and heartfelt tone.
Lensed with painterly élan by Ray stalwart Gary Graver (the late maverick rightly considered it among his finest cinematographic work), The Shooter also benefits from a uniformly superb cast. And as with their director, they clearly relish the opportunity to bring to life an array of mythic, archetypal characters. A quiet, meditative Michael Dudikoff toplines as the eponymous Eastwoodian ‘slinger who treks into town with trouble in tow after rescuing Valerie Wildman’s tart-with-a-heart from a gang of wrong ‘uns affiliated with William Smith’s wicked landowner. Swearing vengeance on Dudikoff for the death of his son, Smith is rapturous, submitting a monumental fire n’ brimstone turn and delighting in the Hackman-y flourishes of the part. Of course, as The Shooter rattles along, it quickly becomes apparent that the growling western legend and his merry band of goons aren’t the only threat to Dudikoff’s reluctant hero, and country music superstar Randy Travis is as equally captivating as a grinning, serpentine wanderer with motives that are anything but amiable. Rounding out the throng are Ray regulars Cal Bartlett, Robert Donavan, Hoke Howell, and Robert Quarry; blink and you’ll miss ‘em appearances from Kane Hodder and Nils Allen Stewart; and a guest spot/narration courtesy of Royal Oaks boss — and frequent Ray collaborator — Andrew Stevens. Naturally, in keeping with his status as the greatest ensemble-centric dramatist in direct-to-video history, Ray juggles his colourful troupe with hypnotic authority.
Also known as ‘Deadly Shooter’.
USA ● 1997 ● Western ● 92mins
Michael Dudikoff, Randy Travis, William Smith, Valerie Wildman ● Dir. Fred Olen Ray ● Wri. Tony Giglio
 For what it’s worth, personally, I’m torn between this, Cyclone (1987), and Haunting Fear (1990).
 Which then went to longtime associate Jim Wynorski, who gave Ray a lil’ cameo at the film’s start.