Review by Harvey Karten
2½ stars out of 4
New York busses are now advertising The History Channel,
stating "Even astronauts have heroes," a tag line that one
suspects could have been copied from the catchy one for Clark
Johnson's new movie "S.W.A.T." "Even cops dial 911." Cute.
Long before the conclusion of the action-adventure pic based on
a not-so-well-regarded 1970's TV series, we can see why the
typical out-of-shape police officer at least here in New York
City is no match for this elite force. In L.A., particularly in
hostage situations, the cop on the beat simply does not have the
training that these guys have (I use the term "guys" because to
date there are no women on the force of Strategic Weapons
and Tactics, the most prestigious division in the L.A.P.D). Yet
another conclusion, not so sanguine about the movie, is that it
comes across as a moving recruitment poster for S.W.A.T.
showing off its macho members, carefully chosen, each with a
different specialty, each weighed down with thirty pounds of
armor and whatever weapon he specializes in. In that regard,
we can compare this effort to Philip Kaufman's 1983 film "The
Right Stuff," a flag-waving look at the birth of America's space
program and the first astronauts all designed by Tom Wolfe's
book to bring out the colors.
Opening with a robbery by black-hooded men who carry
automatic weapons and mean business, "S.W.A.T." makes a
questionable hero out of handsome officer Jim Street (Colin
Farrell), who accidentally shoots a hostage--getting him into hot
water with the captain for defying an order to stand down.
When Lt. Dan "Hondo" Harrelson (Samuel L. Jackson) insists
that not only Street be on his S.W.A.T. team of six and even
recruits a woman, Chris Sanchez (Michelle Rodriguez), the
stage is set for a cat-and-mouse game between the six and a
newly-captured international bandit, Alex (Olivier Martinez), who
is wanted in ten countries for drug selling and arms smuggling.
As Alex is scheduled to be taken from the local jail to a federal
prison, he offers $100 million to anyone who can spring him out,
an offer which a few corrupt cops and a number of others could
not resist. (How exactly Alex can be trusted to pay off and
where his benefactor could go to find safety from an inevitable,
international manhunt is another question, but action-adventure
pictures ask us to suspend disbelief).
Olivier Martinez is the best thing about the pic, performing in
the role of a ruthless outlaw who is well groomed, speaks good
English with a French accent, and is called a Frog three times
by those who are chasing him. Martinez, acting as Diane
Lane's lover in "Unfaithful" is known for work in art-house fare
like "Before Night Falls" and "The Chambermaid on the Titanic,"
but does well here, showing himself to be anything but a small-
time hoodlum. Others in the cast do workmanlike acting, with
Michelle Rodriguez, who got notice from Hollywood for her role
in "Girlfight," flashing her usual don't-mess-with-me scowl
throughout (except for showing herself to be one of the guys by
roaring with laughter during her S.W.A.T. team party).
While "S.W.A.T." is calculated to get the adrenalin pumping,
an almost non-stop string of episodes filmed in seventy-five L.A.
locations, there's nothing here that we have not already seen.
Give it credit, though, for cluing in us in the audience who would
never get a chance to take a look at the Marine-line training
camps that put the recruits through their paces.
While we realize that the three divisions of national
service The Army, the Navy and the Marine Corps frequently
compete with one another, we may not have understood how
much backbiting exists within one large city's S.W.A.T. team.
The captain has issues with the guys who defied his order
during the bank robbery and, like Yasser Arafat hoping that his
prime minister will fail, is determined to humiliate the guys who
went over the top and force them out of the division, or even out
of the force altogether. The brother of Jim Street's 28-year-old
girl friend, a fellow on the team, razzes Street regularly, blaming
him for the young woman's desertion. Gamble hates Street the
most, believing that Street sold him out in order to stay on the
force. The moments of psychological tension in some cases
outweigh the traditional car chases, explosions, and chopper
escapades making "S.W.A.T." worthwhile summer
Copyright © 2003 Harvey Karten