Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (November 24, 2004)
Someday Hollywood will run out of old TV shows to remake as movies. At that point, I guess they’ll need to remake the remakes. But they’re not there yet, which meant the 2003 debut of SWAT as a film.
Loosely based on the Seventies TV series, the new millennium SWAT quickly establishes the SWAT (“Special Weapons and Tactics”) team as the guys the regular cops call when they need help. As they handle a bank hostage situation, we meet some of our main players. For their activities, Jim Street (Colin Farrell) and his partner Brian Gamble (Jeremy Renner) get demoted from SWAT. Gamble takes a hike, but Street decides to stay, much to the irritation of his buddy, who accuses the loose cannon of cutting a deal to keep his job. Their friendship ends angrily as the psycho Gamble thinks Street betrayed him.
The flick then jumps ahead six months, where we see that Street clearly didn’t cut a deal, as he now remains stuck in a menial gun cage assignment. Sergeant Dan “Hondo” Harrelson (Samuel L. Jackson) encounters Street there as he returns to SWAT from another job. The chief wants folks like him to bring back “old school” honor to SWAT to restore some luster to the LAPD’s soiled reputation. Hondo gets the call to find a few new pups for the SWAT squad that he’ll command.
This group starts with TJ McCabe (Josh Charles) and Michael Boxer (Brian Van Holt); the latter just happens to be the brother of Street’s recent ex-girlfriend. Hondo gets to know Street as his driver, and the pair encounter the next recruit for the team as he pursues a baddie: Deke Kaye (LL Cool J). They then go to the hospital to connect with Chris Sanchez (Michelle Rodriguez), another badass cop. Inevitably, Hondo eventually chooses Street for the final slot. Hondo encounters resistance to these picks from arrogant Captain Fuller (Larry Poindexter) – the one who demoted Street in the first place – with the caveat that if something goes wrong, he’ll boot Street and Hondo from the force.
While this occurs, we meet a Frenchman who arrives into LA. Alex Montel (Olivier Martinez) runs his family’s criminal business and enforces issues with violence. Things go awry when he gets pulled over for a busted taillight in his just-murdered uncle’s car, and the cops pull up a warrant for that uncle. When a discrepancy in his records keeps him detained, Montel gets impatient.
As Montel gets transported on a police bus, the authorities finally discover his identity and all his nasty past. They send our heroes as escorts, but it’s too late for that; fellow baddies in cop drag pull over the bus and bust out Montel. However, the SWAT team stops them and recaptures Montel.
On the way to prison, Montel declares that he’ll give $100 million to anyone who busts him out of jail. He needs another transport, so our heroes get the assignment. With so much money out there for a jailbreak, clearly some baddies will attempt to snare Montel, which means the SWATties have their work cut out for them.
If you hope to find anything original or interesting about SWAT, you’ll have your work cut out for you as well. I suppose it could have been more tedious and one-dimensional, but I find that hard to imagine.
Better adapted TV dramas like The Fugitive and Charlie’s Angels did something different and creative with the source material. SWAT, on the other hand, feels like eight million other cop action flicks.
I think director Clark Johnson watched too many Michael Bay flicks, for the latter’s influence pervades SWAT. Unfortunately, it’s the uninspired Bay of Bad Boys who inspires SWAT, not the more entertaining Bay of The Rock or Armageddon. Johnson tosses out scads of different techniques in the hope that some of them will fake us out and make us believe he knows what he’s doing.
This doesn’t happen. Instead, the mélange of cinematographic formats – along with the requisite quick-cutting and excessive camera movement – just feels desperate. The various elements distract and make the material have less impact than it otherwise might have enjoyed.
That’s quite an accomplishment given the tedium of this flick. Almost no parts of SWAT work. The first half of the movie sets up the characters and organizes the team. While that sounds good in theory, especially since so many movies totally eschew exposition in favor of slam-bang action, the characters remain so thin and one-dimensional that all these elements simply bore us. The team could come together in less than half the time and offer the same level of clarity, so the movie really plods in its first half.
If SWAT employed an intriguing plot, I could forgive this slowness, but unfortunately, the story seems pretty dull. The parts with Montel don’t kick into gear until past the flick’s halfway point, and that’s really much too long. The tale lacks much intrigue, especially since most parts could be viewed from a mile away; bits that are supposed to come as a surprise are insanely predictable and telegraphed. The second half of the film feels like little more than a compendium of random violence.
At least SWAT employs a fairly good cast, though you’d not know that from their work here. Almost all involved seem to view this as a paycheck movie; don’t look for any inspiration or excitement from them. The only moderately pleasant surprise came from Martinez. I’d previously seen him as “the other man” in Unfaithful. Given his semi-wimpy presence in that flick, I didn’t expect to buy him as a credible villain. One-dimensional he may remain, but at least Martinez infuses Montel with some decent menace.
Check out SWAT for some of the most blatant product placement ever filmed. We don’t simply see Sony products in the background or on shelves; characters carry huge Sony boxes right in front of the camera! Other brands get massive – and obvious – play as well. All of this makes SWAT feel less like a movie and more like a marketing opportunity.
Frankly, I think that’s all SWAT is. The movie doesn’t seem to have any real reason to exist other than to capitalize on an old property and launch a new franchise. Hopefully that won’t happen, as we definitely don’t need another crappy action movie like this. Poorly formed and executed in almost every way, this sucker comes as a definite disappointment.