SWAT Review

by Homer Yen (homer_yen AT yahoo DOT com)
August 14th, 2003

S.W.A.T. - Somebody Dial 911
by Homer Yen
(c) 2003

About half way through the film, you can discern that the movie is unwisely changing directions and shifting gears. Perhaps it's the wild finale involving a small jet landing on a 4-lane bridge in the middle of a city. Perhaps it's the villain (Olivier Martinez), who goes to extraordinary lengths to be bad, which added unnecessary minutes to the film. Perhaps it's the lack of camaraderie and goofball antics that needs to be present in light of friendly competition and teamwork urgency. It miscalculates how it wants to get things done. And by the time we reach the end, it aggressively but unwisely charges forth when a bit of moderation would have been more reasonable. "S.W.A.T." looks to be invincible at first. However, it eventually takes a bullet wound to the leg.

The best moments of this update to that 70s TV show are in the first half as we watch the smooth cadence of S.W.A.T members, the execution of their tactics, and the rigorous training that they undergo. The film opens up with a crisp and dramatic bank robbery and hostage situation. Four men, clad in body armor and armed with automatic rifles, are keeping police at bay while riddling the surrounding buildings with bullet holes. Members of the Special Weapons and Tactics force, who look more like Army Commandos rather than police officers, are called in to help. They stealthily enter the building using their array of surveillance equipment, navigate the tiny crawl spaces like slithering snakes, and edge closer to the gunmen. The camera work is deft as the action is seen through the lenses of amateur videocams and news cameras, putting us right in the middle of the action and making the standoff seem eerily real. The sound effects are booming, and you feel as if you're in the middle of a war zone.

Also of interest is the training that S.W.A.T. members-to-be must endure and the field exercises that they must pass. One scenario involves terrorist hijackers on a commercial airliner. And although this is merely a test, their actions are still nonetheless suspenseful.

While these first 60 minutes are really good, it establishes a level of expectation that it can not match as the film moves along. What makes the film enjoyable thus far is its seeming level of reality. The film wants to promote S.W.A.T. members as elite officers who don't have super powers. They just have super training and terrific technique.

The film gets bogged down once it enters its main story. The S.W.A.T. team, now comprised of Capt. Hondo (Samuel Jackson); Street (Colin Farrell); Sanchez (Michelle Rodriguez); Kay (LL Cool J); and others, are asked to oversee the delivery of an international fugitive to a federal penitentiary. As the media mugs the villain for comment, he blatantly states that he will award $100 million to anyone who can free him. This brings out all of the thugs, riffraff, and gang members from their hiding places as they launch absurdly staged assaults to try to cash in on the reward.

The film somewhat abandons the characters and the level of plausibility that it has established. It begins to succumb to the pressure of the summer film and the extravagantly staged shootouts and explosions that go with it. That's too bad because "S.W.A.T." starts off very promising as a police thriller but runs out of ammo as it approaches the end and becomes a typical summer shoot-em-up spectacle.
Grade: C+

S: 1 out of 3
L: 2 out of 3
V: 3 out of 3

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