SWAT Review

by Harvey S. Karten (harveycritic AT cs DOT com)
August 5th, 2003


Reviewed by: Harvey S. Karten
Grade: B-
Columbia Pictures
Directed by: Clark Johnson
Written by: David Ayer, David McKenna, story by Ron Mita & Jim McClain
Cast: Samuel L. Jackson, Colin Farrell, Jeremy Renner, Michelle Rodriguez, LL Cool J. Olivier Martinez
Screened at: AMC, NYC, 8/4/03

    New York busses are now advertising The History Channel, stating "Even astronauts have heroes," a tag line that one suspects could have been copied from the catchy one for Clark Johnson's new movie "S.W.A.T." "Even cops dial 911." Cute. Long before the conclusion of the action-adventure pic based on a not-so-well-regarded 1970's TV series, we can see why the typical out-of-shape police officer at least here in New York City is no match for this elite force. In L.A., particularly in hostage situations, the cop on the beat simply does not have the training that these guys have (I use the term "guys" because to date there are no women on the force of Strategic Weapons and Tactics, the most prestigious division in the L.A.P.D). Yet another conclusion, not so sanguine about the movie, is that it comes across as a moving recruitment poster for S.W.A.T. showing off its macho members, carefully chosen, each with a different specialty, each weighed down with thirty pounds of armor and whatever weapon he specializes in. In that regard, we can compare this effort to Philip Kaufman's 1983 film "The Right Stuff," a flag-waving look at the birth of America's space program and the first astronauts all designed by Tom Wolfe's book to bring out the colors.

    Opening with a robbery by black-hooded men who carry automatic weapons and mean business, "S.W.A.T." makes a questionable hero out of handsome officer Jim Street (Colin Farrell), who accidentally shoots a hostage--getting him into hot water with the captain for defying an order to stand down. When Lt. Dan "Hondo" Harrelson (Samuel L. Jackson) insists that not only Street be on his S.W.A.T. team of six and even recruits a woman, Chris Sanchez (Michelle Rodriguez), the stage is set for a cat-and-mouse game between the six and a newly-captured international bandit, Alex (Olivier Martinez), who is wanted in ten countries for drug selling and arms smuggling. As Alex is scheduled to be taken from the local jail to a federal prison, he offers $100 million to anyone who can spring him out, an offer which a few corrupt cops and a number of others could not resist. (How exactly Alex can be trusted to pay off and where his benefactor could go to find safety from an inevitable, international manhunt is another question, but action-adventure pictures ask us to suspend disbelief).

    Olivier Martinez is the best thing about the pic, performing in the role of a ruthless outlaw who is well groomed, speaks good English with a French accent, and is called a Frog three times by those who are chasing him. Martinez, acting as Diane Lane's lover in "Unfaithful" is known for work in art-house fare like "Before Night Falls" and "The Chambermaid on the Titanic," but does well here, showing himself to be anything but a small- time hoodlum. Others in the cast do workmanlike acting, with Michelle Rodriguez, who got notice from Hollywood for her role in "Girlfight," flashing her usual don't-mess-with-me scowl throughout (except for showing herself to be one of the guys by roaring with laughter during her S.W.A.T. team party).

    While "S.W.A.T." is calculated to get the adrenalin pumping, an almost non-stop string of episodes filmed in seventy-five L.A. locations, there's nothing here that we have not already seen. Give it credit, though, for cluing in us in the audience who would never get a chance to take a look at the Marine-line training camps that put the recruits through their paces.

    While we realize that the three divisions of national service The Army, the Navy and the Marine Corps frequently compete with one another, we may not have understood how much backbiting exists within one large city's S.W.A.T. team. The captain has issues with the guys who defied his order during the bank robbery and, like Yasser Arafat hoping that his prime minister will fail, is determined to humiliate the guys who went over the top and force them out of the division, or even out of the force altogether. The brother of Jim Street's 28-year-old girl friend, a fellow on the team, razzes Street regularly, blaming him for the young woman's desertion. Gamble hates Street the most, believing that Street sold him out in order to stay on the force. The moments of psychological tension in some cases outweigh the traditional car chases, explosions, and chopper escapades making "S.W.A.T." worthwhile summer

Rated PG-13. 116 minutes.(c) 2003 by Harvey Karten at
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