*/**** Image A Sound A+ Extras B
starring Samuel L. Jackson, Colin Farrell, Jeremy Renner, Michelle Rodriguez
screenplay by David Ayer and David McKenna
directed by Clark Johnson
by Walter Chaw The promise of the premise is a return to John Carpenter's Escape from L.A., or his Rio Bravo redux Assault on Precinct 13, an idea of a seething urban cess erupting at the promise of notoriety and filthy lucre, but S.W.A.T. washes out as a flaccid, almost wholly uninteresting bit of macho formula. The potential of the film to be Aliens with rampaging hordes of West Coast gangsters seems, at the least, acknowledged in the United Colors of Benetton casting, down to the tough-talking, one-named Latina, but like everything else in the film, the only thing that S.W.A.T. genuinely achieves is a feeling of squandered opportunities and a lot of quiet time to think about them. More, the picture has that distinctive feeling of something that never started by the time it ends--a laggardly-paced two hours of limp set-up that hobbles across the finish line, sputtering on fumes and bluster, boasting mainly of the questionable achievement that it is the exact simulacrum of any episode of the dated '70s television series on which it is based.
Hondo (Samuel L. Jackson) is an old school S.W.A.T ("Special Weapons And Tactics") team sergeant who represents the "gold standard for ass-kicking," brought out of retirement or something, it's unclear, to compile a new S.W.A.T. team in requisite idiot captain Fuller's (the unfortunately-named Larry Poindexter) precinct. Six months earlier, rebel officer Jim Street (Colin Farrell) is kicked off the elite force because of the actions of his insane partner (Jeremy Renner), leaving his second chance in the hands of Hondo and his hardscrabble collection of misfits and loners: "Call us the shit-list team" Hondo invites Capt. Fuller, and indeed, the temptation to do so is irresistible. The conflict, as it were, involves evil French guy Alex (Olivier Martinez)--who, besides killing his uncle over a plate of spaghetti, being rich, and being French, doesn't seem to have really done anything wrong--offering a hundred million dollars to anyone who can break him out of police custody. Sadly, though we get a few tantalizing glimpses of a city-full of ruffians trying to take him up on his offer, the action centres around a couple of rogue agents and a stultifying chase through sewers and across a bridge. "Lake Wobegon Days" is more exciting.
S.W.A.T. is a special kind of drudgery, from its boring prologue, to its hour-long training sequence, to its perfunctory stab at establishing some sort of stakes and backstory, to its protracted finale, to its sequel-baiting epilogue. On and on and on it goes, pacing its action like its dialogue like its abortive romances like its gun rubbing, so that by the end of the ordeal it's sort of hard to figure out where the time has gone, though one does feel curiously refreshed--as after a nap, say, or a coma. It's possible that some people will find S.W.A.T. terribly exciting, as I'm willing to believe that there are people who have never seen a film nor a television show, but there's a problem when all the action scenes in an action film involve random people shooting at one another with no sense of perspective or, in the final mano a mano showdown between Jim and the not-surprising surprise bad guy, where it's impossible to tell at any moment who's who. Consider a training scenario aboard a hijacked airplane, where much is made of the girl of the team being the only one small enough to fit into an elevator compartment, and then consider that when it "all goes down," every member of the team is in the airplane at once, picking off bad guys simultaneously.
This is all to say that the supporting cast is squandered, a thing that seems unlikely given that the supporting cast features LL Cool J and Michelle Rodriguez (who knew they were squanderable?), while Jackson and Farrell, the only real romantic pairing of the piece, masterfully fail to create any sparks. Without any discernible conflict within the group, I guess credit should be given director Clark Johnson for providing balance in the lack of any conflict between the heroes and villains. What I'm saying is that S.W.A.T. has wonderful narrative symmetry--admittedly not difficult, since a flatline is the same kind of drone at the beginning, middle, and end. More constructively, a few references to Steve McQueen in a Bullitt poster and a character bouncing a baseball against a wall demonstrate what seems a malnourished understanding that McQueen and S.W.A.T. have a lot in common: the feeling of tired, boorish, familiarity masquerading as charm--even as McQueen and S.W.A.T. star Farrell have very little in common as nobody pretends to think Farrell is charming.
With the role of the media in fanning the urban conflagration, the brief shot of a black lawn jockey in front of a criminal's house, the weird recurrence of "Figaro" in several scenes, and the references to John Wayne (Hondo, natch) and McQueen, more than a mind-numbing tour of spent conventions, S.W.A.T. is also an extremely frustrating exercise in missed chances to be even slightly out of the ordinary. As it is, it doesn't even stink in any meaningful way, completely forgotten before it's even over. See also: Farrell's The Recruit. Originally published: August 8, 2003.
by Bill Chambers Columbia TriStar presents S.W.A.T. on DVD in competing widescreen and fullscreen editions. This review covers the former, whose 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer is one of the studio's best, exemplary in every respect save some infrequent, negligible haloing. It helps that the image is married to dazzling Dolby Digital 5.1 audio--so much TLC went into this mix that the process is documented elsewhere on the disc; all I can say is, if I caught myself enjoying S.W.A.T., it was usually during a sonically-detailed sequence. This is my favourite DD track of the year after Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (and followed closely by The Lion King, for what it's worth), and what I found remarkable for a change was the clarity of individual sound effects rather than their collective impact. (The rear-channel reverb from the firing range hijinks of chapter 6, "Hot Shots," is almost unsettling in its credibility.) Looking for thunderously banal commentaries? Me neither, but S.W.A.T.'s got two of them, the first featuring actors Samuel L. Jackson, LL Cool J, Brian Van Holt, Josh Charles, Jeremy Renner, and Michelle Rodriguez (all of whom share a mic), as well as relatively humourless and self-deluded director Clark Jackson (in the booth by himself). While screenwriters Ron Mita, Jim McClain, David Ayer, and David McKenna are, according to a sub-menu listing, joined by technical advisors on the second yakker, I found no trace of any participants beyond those initial four.
A single-platter SE, S.W.A.T. includes a fistful of featurettes. "Anatomy of a Shootout" (9 mins.) is an account of filming and editing the geographically confusing opening sequence that prompts Johnson to observe of S.W.A.T. guys, "It's a not a PG-13 world they work in." (Columbia Pictures would beg to differ.) The one intriguing thing about these JM Kenny-supervised mini-docs is their choice of interview subjects, which ranges from the usual A-list suspects to below-the-line players like first assistant director Lars Winther. "S.W.A.T. - TV's Original Super Cops" (7 mins.) spends a cynical amount of its running time pimping the DVD release of the '70s drama's first season, though critic Ray Richmond and original "Hondo" Steve Forrest provide redeeming content in the form of a rejoinder to the show's oft-condemned depiction of violence. New Wave Entertainment's 22-minute "The Making of S.W.A.T." is canned, dull, and badly recorded--Jackson is drowned-out in his interview segments by background din. A section of eight short deleted scenes in semi-polished anamorphic widescreen gets off to an inexplicably hilarious start with a helicopter passage that hasn't had its greenscreen removed, while "6th Street Bridge - Achieving the Impossible" (5 mins.) explains how flight-simulator software assisted F/X technicians in creating a convincing on-screen emergency landing.
"Sound & Fury - The Sounds of S.W.A.T." leapfrogs the viewer to a gun-locker interface. Clicking on the default shotgun results in "The Sounds of S.W.A.T.", a fascinating (to the dork writing this, anyway) 5-minute piece on supervising sound editor Cameron Frankley's eight-channel method of recording a variety of firearms from scratch (somewhere, Sam Peckinpah--who also eschewed library gunfire--is smiling); the remaining icons lead to video-assisted dossiers on guns formally known as the Kimber, AKM, MP5, and M4A1. Elsewhere under the same "Sound & Fury" heading, find four "Scene Breakdowns," wherein the bank, Hollywood, ambush, and bridge set-pieces have been distilled into a quartet of DD 5.1 stems that, as Frankley instructs in an audio-only introduction, we're to toggle between with our remote controls. The rare genuinely funny gag reel (3 mins.), filmographies for the four main cast members, and trailers for Bad Boys II, Once Upon a Time in Mexico, Radio, Underworld, Big Fish, and "TV Action Favorites" round out the disc. Originally published: December 30, 2003.