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S.W.A.T. Print E-mail
Wednesday, 01 November 2006

Image “S.W.A.T.” is a crisp, efficient, workmanlike police action thriller that’s short on plot and characters, but scores with tense, exciting scenes of combat in the streets of Los Angeles. The climax, however, with a Lear jet landing on one of the bridges crossing the L.A. River (yes, there IS an L.A. River) east of downtown, is improbable enough to decrease audience involvement. It shifts from a routinely-plotted but essentially realistic tale of the Special Weapons And Tactics team of the LAPD to a far-fetched, almost James Bondian thriller.

It’s a good choice for release for Blu-Ray, which delivers almost palpable textures and intense colors, and is especially good with aerial shots of cities at night, when every lighted window is clearly-delineated and realistic. The sound is also good, particularly in the opening and closing sequences, with the surround used imaginatively and well—though of course this is a trait of the theatrical moviemaking team, not especially one of the Blu-Ray process.

One suspects many moviegoers weren’t aware of—or didn’t give a damn about—this film being based on a TV series. The series itself was never a major hit, nor did it have a long run, but someone at Columbia/Sony decided it was a good source for a movie. The role names of all the leading characters (except one) come directly from the series—Sgt. Dan “Hondo” Harrelson, Jim Street, Deacon Kay, T.J. McCabe. Still-rugged Steve Forrest, Hondo from the series, appears briefly as a S.W.A.T. truck driver in the very last sequence. But the advertising for the film didn’t exploit the connection to the TV series. As the movie opens, masked gunmen have raided a bank and are holding employees and customers captive. Among those called in are S.W.A.T. partners Jim Street (Colin Farrell) and Brian Gamble (Jeremy Renner). The two successfully sneak into the bank; then, against orders, Gamble takes out one of the holdup men, wounding a hostage in the process.

He leaves S.W.A.T., and Street is demoted to the weapons cage, where he hands out equipment to other S.W.A.T. team members. When veteran S.W.A.T. Sgt. Dan “Hondo” Harrelson (Samuel L. Jackson) is assigned to form an elite team—a S.W.A.T. within S.W.A.T.—he includes Street. Others are Chris Sanchez (“Lost”’s Michelle Rodriguez), Michael Boxer (Brian Van Holt), T.J. McCabe (Josh Charles) and Deke Kay (LL Cool J). There’s friction between Boxer and Street; Boxer is convinced he’s the hotshot of the new team until Street proves otherwise.

Meanwhile, we’ve met arrogant French gangster Alex Montel (Olivier Martinez, very hissable), who’s come to Los Angeles to take over the French gang leadership from his uncle, whom he promptly kills. Who’d have thought that Los Angeles even HAD a French criminal gang? When Montel is out cruising the streets in his late uncle’s car, he’s picked up on a minor traffic violation—but a records check shows LAPD that they have a top gangster on their hands.

Montel tries for a prison-truck break—actually filmed on Hollywood Boulevard, which rarely sees such action in movies or real life—but it goes wrong and he’s captured immediately. But as he’s hauled off to jail again, he’s surrounded by TV news cameras and journalists—and announces that he’ll give a hundred million dollars to anyone who can spring him.

This, of course, presents problems, with bad guys popping up everywhere hoping to claim the loot. Hondo’s S.W.A.T. team is given the task of escorting the always-annoying Montel from downtown Los Angeles to a desert prison. Of course, things do get out of hand—remember Gamble—and there’s lots of bang bang and boom boom before everything is settled.

This is the kind of film about which there usually isn’t much to say. That is, it’s a familiar, well-oiled machine—it’s wound up in the first two acts and chatters and clatters its way to the climax. There’s nothing much to complain about—all technical aspects are fine, as expected from a studio movie these days—and also nothing much to praise. Everyone does their job. Thank you very much.

Of course, even in this kind of thing, Samuel L. Jackson stands out, easily holding each scene he appears in. For the last several years, he hasn’t been able to show much of his considerable range as an actor (“Snakes on a Plane,” anyone?), but as a riveting, sardonic movie star, he has few equals these days. He’s as tough and masculine as Forrest was in the TV series, and that’s saying something.

It’s a little odd to find British Colin Farrell playing an American cop, though he manages the accent perfectly. He has sad, wistful but challenging eyes, rather like Russell Crowe, and can suggest a back story by gesture and expression alone. The script by David Ayer and David McKenna (from a screen story by Ron Mita and Jim McClain) is brusque but routine; it gives every character a scene or two to demonstrate their personalities, then goes right back to the standard—and very thin—plot the movie’s choo choo train has to follow.

The Blu-Ray disc includes as extras only eight deleted scenes, including brief romantic scenes for Hondo and for T.J. But as usual, deleted scenes usually demonstrate why they’ve been deleted. It’s regrettable that Sony Home Video didn’t bother to include more information about the TV series on which the movie is based—but there isn’t a word on the disc about the series.

There are all too many movies about which it can be said, “If you like this kind of movie, here is this kind of movie.” S.W.A.T. is just another.

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