SWAT Review

by Jon Popick (jpopick AT sick-boy DOT com)
August 8th, 2003

Planet Sick-Boy: http://www.sick-boy.com
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Copyright 2003 Planet Sick-Boy. All Rights Reserved.

The notion of a summer blockbuster being adapted from a less-than-inspiring '70s television show does not fill me with joy. And I'm not even talking about Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle. The film in question is S.W.A.T., which is about as close as we're going to get to a 2003 version of The Fast and the Furious (meaning it looked super assy, but ended up being surprisingly entertaining).

S.W.A.T., which actually stands for Special Weapons and Tactics (not Sela Ward Ate Tacos), starts with a Big Action Sequence, in which masked bandits attempt to rob an LA bank. Since the criminals wield weapons more powerful than the regular 5-0, the S.W.A.T. unit is called in. Long story short, the robbery is foiled, but a civilian was accidentally shot by a S.W.A.T. agent named Brian Gamble (Jeremy Renner, Dahmer).

Six months later, Gamble is off the force, while his former partner, Jim Street (Colin Farrell, Daredevil), has been reassigned to the unit's Cage where he shines boots and cleans guns because he refused to rat on Gamble's indiscretion. Street's girlfriend (Ashley Scott, Birds of Prey) moves out on him, too, so you know the poor little ex-Navy SEAL is all down in the dumps (he's still Colin Farrell, though, so I guess you'll just have to suspend belief a bit here).

Enter old-school Lieutenant "Hondo" Harrelson (Samuel L. Jackson, Basic), who is told by his crusty boss (Larry Poindexter) to build a new, young S.W.A.T. team because it will help the department's low approval ratings (!). So Hondo sniffs out some talent, including Michelle Rodriguez (Blue Crush) and James Todd Smith/LL Cool J (Deliver Us from Eva), and of course, Our Hero, Jim Street. Training is difficult, but a successful team is built.

S.W.A.T. is perfectly appealing through this point, after which it becomes another implausible, by-the-numbers Hollywood action film. Olivier Martinez (Unfaithful) plays Alex Montel, an international terrorist who is caught by the LAPD yet manages to make a very eyebrow-raising offer on national television: Help him escape police custody and get $100 million. And he does it without doing the Dr. Evil pinky thing, too. You'll laugh at the ending, which involves a stunt on the longest bridge in the world, which you probably didn't know was in downtown Los Angeles.

S.W.A.T. is made enjoyable by director Clark Johnson, who registers a solid feature-film debut here after logging in numerous hours behind the camera on various television police dramas like NYPD Blue, The Wire and The Shield (his work on the latter's pilot earned Johnson an Emmy nomination). Johnson, who is probably best known for his work in front of the camera on Homicide as Meldrick Lewis, cuts out the obligatory romance and features almost no static shots, and I mean that in a good Homicide kind of way, not in an I'm-going-to-throw-up/Michael Bay kind of way. He also takes advantage of the whole David Mills/David Simon/Edward Burns/Tom Fontana connection, which means there will be a lot of familiar faces if you're a fan of Oz, The Wire, The Corner and Homicide.

For those of you old enough to remember the television show, the quintessential mid-'70s theme is back, but of course, it's funked up to modern rock heaven. Farrell's role was originally played by Robert Urich, while Jackson, Smith and Josh Charles recreate characters from the now-kitschy show.

2:00 - PG-13 for violence, language and sexual references

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