Mark Reviews Movies


2 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Clark Johnson

Cast: Samuel L. Jackson, Colin Farrell, Michelle Rodriguez, LL Cool J, Josh Charles, Brian Von Holt, Oliver Martinez, Jeremy Renner, Larry Poindexter

MPAA Rating:  (for violence, language and sexual references)

Running Time: 1:58

Release Date: 8/8/03

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Review by Mark Dujsik

"Where were your tactics?"

So the cliché police captain chews out a hotshot member of S.W.A.T. named—I kid you not—Gamble after he wounds a hostage during a bank robbery.  He also unknowingly asks a question that would be appropriately aimed at the entire movie. Considering that S.W.A.T. is about a highly trained, strategic police force, it's disappointing how quickly the movie dissolves into a formulaic cop movie. Adding even more to that is the fact that it takes so long to get to the actual action, and when it does, it throws away everything in the premise and relies on straightforward, tactless action. They train to be prudent and resourceful, but they charge in, guns blazing. You can count all of the action sequences on one hand (which isn't necessarily a bad thing on its own), and more than half of them are too short to make a real impact. As we've learned many times before, though, it isn't quantity but quality that makes a solid action film, and S.W.A.T. is short on both points.

Jim Street (Colin Farrell) and Brian Gamble (Jeremy Renner) are partners at the end of their relationship. Gamble, as stated before, accidentally shot a hostage in the successful foiling of a bank robbery, and while Gamble is kicked off the force entirely, Street remains working the gun cage. Gamble is convinced that his former partner placed the blame entirely on him and leaves on a sour note. Months later, Street still works the gun cage, still exercises daily, and is dumped by his girlfriend (why does it seem this point is always thrown in?). His boring routine is about to change when Sgt. Dan "Hondo" Harrelson (Samuel L. Jackson) returns to S.W.A.T. and is put in charge of recruiting a "young, kick-ass team" (as opposed to the old, frail kind, I suppose). The team he assembles includes David "Deke" Kay (LL Cool J), the tough, muscular guy, Chris Sanchez (Michelle Rodriguez), the tough, muscular girl, T.J. McCabe (Josh Charles), the sarcastic rebel, Michael Boxer (Brian Van Holt), the filler, and, of course, Street. As the new team undergoes training, an international criminal named Alex Montel (Olivier Martinez) arrives in the US to take control of the family business.

There are really two movies here. The first is the exposition, which introduces the characters, the training, and ends with their first call. It's a lot of setup without much behind it. That movie abruptly ends when the second's inciting action—Montel making a hundred-million-dollar offer to anyone who can free him—occurs. It's too bad, because the first concept was just gaining speed. All of the training sequences give us an impression, which is, as it turns out, false, that there will be actual thought and procedure put into the action sequences. Instead, there's barely anything going on before Montel makes his offer, and once he does, the movie falls back on a big action-filled climax that relies on lots of nonsensical turns of events. The actual action scenes in the movie are as follows: the opening bank robbery, which gives us a taste of tactical action, the final test to see if the team is good enough, which is another tease but with no danger involved, a helicopter crash, which happens quickly and doesn't go anywhere, a shootout, in which we eventually learn is a useless red herring, and the final chase, which goes on for a long time.

Only that last sequence develops into an extended one, but it's still routine and basic. Director Clark Johnson and editor Michael Tronick do manage to make the engagements fast, as Street tells Sanchez they are, but they are nonetheless clear-cut tasks. There's no real need for strategy, because once faced with the villains (a pair of S.W.A.T. turncoats whose identities are apparent too early), the team simply goes in and shoots away. We also have faint ideas of what will happen throughout the movie because of multiple Chekhov Guns. A giant hook that pulls the wall off a building is introduced, so we know it will be used in the movie's comic relief set piece before the second movie starts.  Street trains with a punching bag, so we know the final fight will put him in a hand-to-hand combat situation. We don't suspect that the last fight will be shot so darkly that it's impossible to tell what's happening, but I digress. The script's reliance on formula is evident but never more so than whenever the captain (Larry Poindexter) is on screen. He exists solely to be a nuisance and to make wrong decisions so that the team can outthink him.

S.W.A.T. has a few worthwhile elements. The presentation of the media is accurate in the way that they are in everything. The entire conflict with Montel arises because his offer is recorded and televised across the world, and in the background of the action, people with camcorders try to capture everything.  The cast is used properly, including the usually shaky Olivier Martinez, Michelle Rodriguez, and LL Cool J, but Colin Farrell and Samuel L. Jackson are the backbone, even if they are more subdued than usual. This is one of those rare instances where a sequel is in order. The premise has the potential for intelligent action; all it needs is a little fine tuning of the action so that it fits the movie's job description.

Copyright © 2003 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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