SWAT Review

by Laura Clifford (laura AT reelingreviews DOT com)
August 7th, 2003


Special Weapons and Tactics officer Jim Street (Colin Farrell, "Daredevil") helps his partner Brian Gamble (Jeremy Renner, "Dahmer") save a hostage during an armed bank robbery, but Brian gambled, ignoring a 'hold' order for heroics. The hostage (Heather Charles) sues the city for being clipped with Gamble's bullet and Captain Tom Fuller (Larry Poindexter, "Judgement Day") is outraged by his team's behavior. Gamble quits in disgust, furious that his partner also questions his behavior. Street accepts a demotion to the gun cage, cleaning boots and weapons with Gus (James DuMont, "Seabiscuit"), waiting for a change to rejoin "S.W.A.T."

Adapted from the 1975 television series by David Ayer ("Dark Blue," "Training Day") and David McKenna ("Blow") and directed by television cop show vet Clark Johnson (HBO's "The Wire," TV's "The West Wing," "NYPD Blue"), "S.W.A.T." is a fast paced action flick with an interesting hook - its villain, murdering, drug running, arms dealer Alex Montel (Olivier Martinez, "Unfaithful") inspires more villains to come out of the woodwork with his offer of 100 meeeeelion dollars to free him from LAPD custody.

This happens at a crucial time for the LAPD, which has just rerecruited some of its old school officers to bring back some of its luster. Lt. Dan 'Hondo' Harrelson (Samuel L. Jackson, "Changing Lanes") is one such and Street's banter and cocky attitude in the gun cage catches his attention. Tagging Street as his 'driver,' Hondo assembles his team. Boxer (Brian Van Holt, "Basic") and T.J. (Josh Charles, "Muppets From Space") are already S.W.A.T., having previously worked with Street, so Hondo needs to find three new guys to complete his team. David 'Deke' Kay (LL Cool J, "Deliver Us From Eva") is a beat cop from South Central. Hondo's shocked to find that his next choice, Chris Sanchez (Michelle Rodriguez, "Blue Crush"), is a woman given her tough reputation, but her smaller size will come in handy. Lastly, of course, is Street who Hondo has to fight Fuller for - if the team fails, he and Street are off the force.

With the deck stacked against them, the team has to bond in training. Boxer resents Street because of Street's recently broken relationship with his sister and Hot shot T.J. lost a marksman competition to him. Sanchez has the usual macho wall to scale. Still, with a mixture of work, humor and a little TV theme music humming, the gang passes their strenuous S.W.A.T. test. After one humorous job utilizing Street's 'Polish penetrator' invention (it tears down a wall of a booby-trapped home), the group is pitted against Montel.

Ayer and McKenna modernize the old TV show by making these heroes fallible. In a post Rodney King L.A., Dirty Harry tactics are dicier than ever (Captain Fuller tells Gamble 'Sometimes doing the right thing isn't doing the right thing.'). Redemption doesn't come to all, though, and the screenwriters give several early warning signs of whom to keep an eye on. Plenty of humor is injected through both over the top dialogue ('Let's get this frog in the bird') and situations (the team commandeers a prom limo). Street is the relationship lynchpin with his fallen angel partner and new mentor/boss. He's left in the lurch romantically, reconciliation with Boxer's sister kept open while single mom Sanchez looms as a possibility (this also sets up things nicely for a continuation to the series). The ensemble cast works well together led by pro Jackson and hot commodity Farrell. Rodriguez is loosening up nicely and Renner, so good in the little seen "Dahmer," holds his own with his higher profile castmates.

Clarkson shows no strain orchestrating complex action sequences on the big screen, and, admirably, has attempted to keep stunts within the realm of possibility - even the climatic Lear jet landing on L.A.'s 6th Street Bridge is presumably doable (CGI was used for the film, though). Cinematographer Gabriel Beristain ("Blade II") keeps the package looking slick and Elliot Goldenthal's ("The Good Thief") score helps propel the action with just the right amount of "S.W.A.T." theme riffs.

"S.W.A.T." strikes a nice balance of old and new that could make for a profitable franchise as long as it keeps its tactics special and its weapons in the hands of characters we care about.


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