Go ahead and put “S.W.A.T.” in the summer 2003 lineup of explosive action movies next to “Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle” and “Bad Boys II.” That’s where it belongs, but I am happy to report that while it is loud, this particular film is the most tolerable of the summer. The opening shot is a hovering pan over the famous HOLLYWOOD sign in California where the film takes place. By that, the movie recognizes that it is a work of fiction, and it doesn’t mind being one while at the same time following most laws of physics.
The first scene takes place at a bank under siege where a gang of robbers have taken hostages and started shooting into the streets with their automatic machine guns; a scene done with much energy very similar to the extensively long shoot-out from the early 90’s film, “Heat.” The LAPD can’t control the situation and have to call in the Special Weapons and Tactics Unit (as the tagline reads: Even cops dial 911). Officer Jim Street and Brian Gamble (Colin Farrell and Jeremy Renner) lead the charge, but when the plan isn’t executed by the books, both Street and Gamble face punishment from Captain Thomas Fuller (Larry Poindexter).
The end result of the shoot-out maps the near future of both Street and Gamble, and the outcome isn’t much surprising. They are sent to “the cage,” where S.W.A.T. equipment is cleaned, repaired and refurbished. Street accepts the demotion while Gamble quits the force altogether after feeling betrayed by his boss and now former partner.
When the department faces criticism for its decline in performance, Sgt. Dan 'Hondo' Harrelson (Samuel L. Jackson) is called in to form his own independent unit. Admittedly, the dream team is formed rather quickly, but it’s how plot developments in such movies should been done. Most 2+ hour flicks like “Hulk” and “Pirates of the Caribbean” overstay their welcome; “S.W.A.T.” knows how to entertain without crashing the party.
Hondo’s team includes: Chris Sanchez (Michelle Rodriguez), a feisty street cop who was rejected from the S.W.A.T. program three times by Captain Fuller because she’s a woman; Deke Kay (LL Cool J), another street-cop with something to prove other than his eight-pack abs; Boxer (Brian Van Holt), the token veteran whose sister recently broke up with Jim and is reluctant to serve with him; and T.J. McCabe (Josh Charles), the guy who doesn’t become important until later on.
The team goes through the mandatory drill procedures and training missions before being entrusted by the Captain with their first major assignment. It so happens that internationally wanted fugitive, Alex (Olivier Martinez), has been captured in downtown LA and needs an escort to the federal penitentiary. This seems like an ordinary job, that is until Alex finds the media cameras and offers anybody who helps him escape, $100 million.
This is where all hell breaks lose. Rockets and grenades fly, good cops become greedy cops, chases ensue, and a private leer jet somehow lands on the highway. The action is intense and it only slows down during the standard scene where the cop’s girlfriend can’t take her boyfriend’s long hours anymore and ends the relationship. But once that’s taken care of, the game resumes. Every new scene introduces us to a new gang of heavily armed thugs attempting to liberate Alex from the custody of Hondo’s S.W.A.T. unit.
If I had to complain about something, it would the acting. The actors don’t seem to care much for the movie as if they didn’t expect much from it even though it opened #1 at the box-office. I was disappointed in Farrell, who is usually electric and full of enthusiasm. Here is seems tired and does just enough to satisfy the job. Don’t expect a “Phone Booth” performance. I say this because Farrell is usually great at becoming his character and making us forget that he is Colin Farrell. From “Minority Report” to “Daredevil,” he is never the same person. But in “S.W.A.T., he is almost a copy from his character in “The Recruit,” where his identical line, “Is this a test?” is used before his superior. But this is the kind of movie that doesn’t require us to pay much attention to the actors, so all can be forgiven.
What sets “S.W.A.T.” aside from your other typical cop-shooters is that this one almost seems realistic. This film has car chases while at the same time remembering that the streets in Los Angeles during rush hour are almost always traffic-jammed, something not recognized so well since “The Hunted.” The unit searches for bad guys in suspecting locations, but not before clearing the spot first before commencing the sweep.
In “Bad Boys II,” whenever the heroes would cause a reckless blood bath in public, they would face a Joe Pantoliano yelling and verbal lashing but a fresh assignment the next morning, but in “S.W.A.T.” even the slightest destructive behavior brings demotions.
Based on the 70’s TV series, “S.W.A.T.” won’t disappoint action fans. It grabs your attention from the opening bank shoot-out and doesn’t loosen up until somewhere near the end before the obligatory one-on-one duels that take place somewhere near the train tracks. But for this type of movie, being attentive more than half way means something was done right. In this case, a few things were done right.