The one distinguishing factor of "S.W.A.T." over other television-to-movie
adaptations is that it bypasses being a direct remake and, instead,
is set in the real world where "S.W.A.T." was a hit cop drama of the
1970's. Otherwise, the film is nothing speciala by-the-numbers, high-octane
actioner whose attempts at third-act plot twists are sloppily predictable.
Meanwhile, an inordinate amount of scenes are spent decepti vely developing
characters that remain vague and subplots that disappear as fast as they begin.
When a mission is disobeyed and a hostage left wounded, S.W.A.T. officer
Brian Gamble (Jeremy Renner) is fired, while partner Jim Street (Colin
Farrell) chooses a downsized job over staying true to his friend.
Switch forward six months, Jim is given a second chance on a new S.W.A.T.
team chosen by veteran Lt. Hondo Harrelson (Samuel L. Jackson). Other
new enlistees include go-getter Deke Kay (James Todd Smith); single
mother and tough token female Chris Sanchez (Michelle Rodriguez);
and refined pretty-boy T.J. McCabe (Josh Charles). When international
drug and weapon smuggler Alex Montel (Olivier Martinez) is arrested,
they are given the task of transporting him to prisonsomething that
becomes increasingly difficult when Alex states on national television
that anyone who breaks him free will be paid $100 million.
Directed by Clark Johnson, "S.W.A.T." manages to captu re the viewer's
attention, but only for as long as it takes to reveal its lack of
focus and overall innovation. For the first 75 minutes, the picture
has little in the way of a sharp-driving narrative, satisfied with
merely prattling off disconnected scenes of superficial character
development and elongated training montages with a blaring hard rock
soundtrack. The strained friendship between Jim and Brian is the focal
point of the prologue, but gets mostly lost in the shuffle soon after.
Likewise, a potential romance between Jim and Chris is hinted at,
but never carried through. Another scene in which Jim is dumped by
his live-in girlfriend is maddeningly superfluous, as she is never
seen or heard from again, and he never mentions her before or after the incident.
Finally, the premise shifts into overdrive just in time for a 30-minute
action sequence set in the subway, the sewers, and on a bridge acting
as a plane runway. The climax boasts technical showmanship, but little
e lse. The final would-be surprise twists are about as subtle as a
neon sign, painfully implausible and obvious. Most annoying of all
is a denouement that lacks the very human element director Clark Johnson
had gone to such great pains to set up in the first half. Because
of this, the film ends up aimless and unsatisfying, if still a tolerable diversion.
Colin Farrell is the newest major bonafide movie star, and for good
reason. Farrell is a charismatic and undeniably dedicated chameleon
of an actor who transforms into every character he plays, from a rookie
CIA trainee in 2003's "The Recruit," to the villain, Bullseye, in
2003's "Daredevil," to a hot-shot, womanizing agent in 2003's "Phone
Booth." As talented S.W.A.T. member Jim Street, Farrell does his best,
but this time is let down by little to no material to work with. In
the name of big-budget, no-brains moviemaking, Farrell's untamed spark
is traded in for edit cuts and action stunts. Lead co-star Samuel
L. Jackson (2003's "Basic"), arguably the most talented African American
performer in film today, has the same problem as Hondo Harrelson.
Over the course of two hours, the amount of things that are learned
about his character can be counted on one hand.
In supporting parts, Michelle Rodriguez (2002's "Blue Crush"), she
of the requisite snarl and pout, actually gets a chance to smile this
time out. At first, the change in her usual facial expression is disarming,
but Rodriguez is actually pretty charming as the focused Chris Sanchez.
And Jeremy Renner, chillingly unforgettable as serial killer Jeffrey
Dahmer in 2002's "Dahmer," is a fresh and talented face who has th
e most interesting character to playthat of the slighted and gradually
unhinged Brian Gamble. Completely wasted is the usually energetic
James Todd Smith, aka LL Cool J (2003's "Deliver Us from Eva"), who
has little to do and even less to say.
"S.W.A.T." is flashy, stylish, and workmanlike, but disappoints by
never achieving what it teases at aspiring to. As a character drama,
it is a flimsy, one-note disaster, and as an action flick, it does
the trick but seems downright quaint in comparison to some of the
bigger summer movies. However, as nothing more than a slight popcorn
entertainment, the film could have been much, much worse. There is
enjoyment to be had, mainly from seeing the top-notch and diverse
cast work together, but it is all for nothing when one discovers how
misused each of them are. "S.W.A.T." screams for another rewrite that never comes.
Copyright © 2003 Dustin Putman