S.W.A.T: Firefight (2011) Movie Review

“SWAT: Firefight” is an interesting movie, not because the movie is, you know, interesting or anything, but rather because it’s a very good example of the existing template for direct-to-DVD sequels to moderate studio hits that are being cranked out nowadays. In this case, the 2003 big-screen adaptation of the TV show “SWAT”, which while it didn’t blow the doors off Hollywood, turned a nice enough profit ($207 million worldwide from an $80 million dollar budget) to warrant a cheap direct-to-DVD sequel. The brand name, the studio reasons, is there, so why not go ahead and make another installment without committing the resources – A-list stars, a big budget – to the endeavor?

That is essentially why most direct-to-DVD sequels happen nowadays – the studio figures there is enough name recognition to make a quick buck. “SWAT: Firefight” is a prime example: the storyline is familiar, the environment is similar, and it is a generally well-made (re: competent), though not necessarily great product. And because it maintains the “SWAT” franchise tag, “Firefight” must adhere to the first movie’s plot beats – in this case, a hotshot L.A. SWAT cop training up a brash new group of young up-and-comers, a tough female SWAT member who can do everything the boys can do, and a bad guy who doesn’t really do much until nearly the Third Act to test the mettle of our heroes.

“Firefight” is fronted by Gabriel Macht, a one-time Hollywood action star in the making who didn’t, well, make it. Of course, potential star-making roles in commercial flops like “The Spirit” and “Whiteout” didn’t exactly help the cause. Macht plays Paul Cutler, a cocky L.A. SWAT badass tasked with flying over to grungy Detroit to teach up a new group of SWAT. He butts heads with the predictably douche baggy bureaucratic cop, has to teach the team’s young, braggart hotshot some humility, and must eventually contend with a Government killer named Walter Hatch (Robert Patrick) who blames Cutler for the death of his beloved (Kristanna Loken, who shows up for a “Terminator” reunion – she was a killer robot from the future in “Terminator 3” while Patrick was one in “Terminator 2” – for exactly 2 or 3 minutes total). Never you mind that Cutler didn’t really cause the woman’s death, ol Walter’s really pissed, and makes it his mission to stalk Cutler and the SWAT crew for the rest of the movie.

If it feels like Walter is shoehorned into the script in order to give Cutler and company someone to fight, then well, you are probably on the right track. Though in the context of the first movie, which really didn’t feature the villain much until he gets captured and figures into the SWAT heroes’ duties as a result, Walter doesn’t really do much for much of “Firefight” until he’s ready to spring his evil plans to make Cutler’s life miserable and fulfill his promise of killing every member of Cutler’s team. Robert Patrick has looked more intimidating in other movies, and really does not make for much of a villain here, which is a surprise because he usually plays the heavy pretty well. Here, though, his motives for going after Cutler are so silly that it’s hard to take him all that seriously as the “super smart villain with the plan” that he’s supposed to be.

“Firefight” is directed by Benny Boom (“Next Day Air”), who has apparently been playing way too many games of “Call of Duty”, because there is an obscene amount of shots where the camera is strapped to the barrel of a gun and swiveled around. The effect is actually pretty cool if you’re a fan of the COD games, as it gives you an odd, somewhat warped perspective of the surroundings when all you can really see is the herky jerky POV of a rifle barrel. Interesting, but overused and eventually gratuitous. With a name like Boom, you gotta figure ol Benny knows his way around a gunfight, and give him credit, he makes the shootouts look pretty good, if unspectacular. There are no major action set pieces, which is not unexpected; they are working with a limited budget, after all.

Besides Macht, former “24” alum Carly Pope as a police shrink provides the obligatory love interest, while Shannon Kane as Cutler’s former Iraq War comrade in arms fills out the grrrl power quotient. Curiously, while the 2003 movie never really bothered to give hero Colin Farrell much of a girlfriend, Macht’s Paul Cutler actually has something of a social life outside of SWAT. Giancarlo Esposito as the bureaucrat who gets in Cutler’s way is odiously annoying, though Nicholas Gonzalez as the hotshot SWAT brat is amusing. Too bad the film really had no idea what to do with his character past the first act. I was expecting him to turn up as a turncoat ala the first movie, but that never happened.

By the standards of 2003’s “SWAT”, “Firefight” holds its own. It’s not like the first movie was anything special, though admittedly I have a fondness for it, and usually watch it all the way through when I run across it on TV. It’s entirely very watchable, though by no means memorable in anyway whatsoever. It’s pretty much the same thing with “Firefight”. If you’re a fan of SWAT movies (or SWAT TV shows – there are a couple of those playing on cable TV, too), then “Firefight” has the prerequisite firepower, guys in heavy duty body armor action, and bad guys in need of killing criteria that you’re probably looking for.

“SWAT: Firefight” blasts onto DVD and Blu-ray from Sony Pictures on March 1, 2011. It’s light on special features, but does include a featurette called “Sharp Shooting: On the Set”, which talks about the cast going through real SWAT training for the film .

Benny Boom (director) / Reed Steiner, Randy Walker, Michael Albanese, Ed Arneson (screenplay)
CAST: Gabriel Macht … Paul Cutler
Robert Patrick … Walter Hatch
Kristanna Loken … Rose Walker
Nicholas Gonzalez … Justin Kellogg
Carly Pope … Kim Byers
Giancarlo Esposito … Inspector Hollander
Shannon Kane … Lori Barton

Buy S.W.A.T: Firefight on DVD