SWAT Review

by Michael Dequina (mrbrown AT iname DOT com)
August 20th, 2003

_S.W.A.T._ (PG-13) ** 1/2 (out of ****)

    Ask anyone about the mid-'70s TV action series _S.W.A.T._, and chances are the most common--if not the only--answer you'll get is a rendition of Rhythm Heritage's memorable, chart-topping theme song. That's no surprise at all since that was about the only distinctive element of what was essentially a by-the-numbers (and short-lived; it ran only two seasons) cops-and-robbers series--a fact highlighted all too well by the uninspired big-budget feature film version of the show.

    Despite a solid, big-screen-worthy cast led by veteran Samuel L. Jackson and filled out by sturdy stars-on-the-rise Colin Farrell, Michelle Rodriguez and LL Cool J (though the fifth principal player is the astonishingly talent-free Gallic import Olivier Martinez--I guess you can't have it all), this feature version of S.W.A.T. is still strictly small-screen. Director Clark Johnson cut his teeth and earned acclaim working on various television cop series (among them, _Homicide:_Life_on_the_Street_, in which he also starred), and while his perfectly professional work here shows promise, he's stymied by a screenplay that has the concept's tube-set origins too strongly in mind. The script, credited to David Ayer and David McKenna (from a story by Ron Mita and Jim McClain), plays like a two-part TV pilot; the first half is overly expository(complete with clanging, too-on-the-nose lines such as "S.W.A.T. stands for special weapons and tactics") devoted to Sgt. Dan "Hondo" Harrelson (Jackson) assembling and training his new team, and only at the halfway mark does the actual plot finally kick in. This wouldn't be such a problem if the story weren't so ridiculous: a captured international criminal (Martinez, just as laughable as he was in _Unfaithful_) makes a bold public offer of $1 million to whomever successfully breaks him free from custody, which then lights a fire under the ass of every single criminal element in Los Angeles, causing mass chaos in the streets. That every crook and random hoodlum would be so motivated is already a stretch; but with the offer coming from a greasy Frenchman with a sleazy accent? The hardest of gangstas would laugh at his desperate ass.

    A certain level of preposterousness is par for the course in an action flick, but when there are no suitably exciting sequences, the logistical shortcomings are a bit more glaring, not to mention the outright careless errors; for instance, when Rodriguez's character says that she's reporting from a subway station at Figueroa Street, a sign behind her clearly reads "Wilshire/Normandie" (couldn't that have been covered up somehow?). Then there's the bizarre anomaly that is the constant referencing of the original television series, from the team singing the famous theme song at the dinner table to one of the guys watching the show at home, for the characters in the film share the exact same names as their television counterparts. The actors gamely go through the motions: Jackson is an appropriately commanding presence; Farrell again displays leading man charisma in the more central role of Jim Street; Rodriguez and LL Cool J do what they can with their limited roles. However good the cast may be (most of it, at least), an action film isn't quite doing its job when it doesn't boast a single truly memorable action sequence, and _S.W.A.T._ never quite rises above the level of merely watchable.

2003 Michael Dequina

Michael Dequina
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