S.W.A.T. (2003) Movie Review

“SWAT” is one of those movies so unconcern with appearing intelligent or original that you just have to tip your hat to it. Mind you, viewers shouldn’t be too appreciative of the movie’s lack of realism, since everything that takes place in “SWAT”, from its clich’ characters to its over-the-top action, has been done ad nauseam in hundreds of other Hollywood Summer fare. What makes “SWAT” a tad better than the rest is a sure directorial hand by long-time TV director/actor Clark Johnson (TV’s “Homicide”) and the presence of two charming leading men.

Like most films nowadays there’s little use describing “SWAT’s” plot, since the 2-minute trailer spilled all the secrets. What you may not know is that Colin Farrell (“Daredevil”) plays Jim Street, a Los Angeles SWAT cop who is kicked off the elite unit after he and a partner (Jeremy Renner) disobeys orders during a bank heist. Now relegated to cleaning guns for other cops, Jim gets another crack at SWAT when Hondo (Samuel L. Jackson) is brought back on the force to, as one character puts it, “bring back the luster of the L.A.P.D.”

The secondary plot — but the one that’s touted in all the ads — concerns international criminal Alex Montel (Olivier Martinez, “Unfaithful”), a Frenchman and some sort of drug dealer. To be honest, the film makes such poor use of Montel that it’s hard to really figure out who he is and why he’s such a dangerous criminal wanted by every nation around the world. Before his capture (by way of a freak coincidence) Montel is seen dispatching of a rival up close and personal using only a hand knife. Later, while being led away before he’s extradited to a federal prison, Montel delivers his now-famous “one hundred meeelion dollars!” speech to the cameras, thus setting off the film’s second half.

Before Montel’s speech, “SWAT” is all about Street as he copes with being demoted, then finally returning to SWAT at the behest of Hondo. The rest of the recruits include Michelle Rodriguez (“Resident Evil”) as Sanchez, LL Cool J (“Rollerball”) as Deke, Josh Charles as the vain McCabe, and Brian Van Holt as Boxer, a guy with an unsightly mustache. (Ashley Scott, last seen smirking her way through the now-cancelled “Birds of Prey” TV show, has a 2-minute appearance as Street’s girlfriend. I wonder if that tattoo is real?) The first half of the film deals with the recruits’ training before shifting gears to involve Montel and his “one hundred meeelion dollars!”

Needless to say, it’s the second half that sells “SWAT” (although a theater with a booming audio system doesn’t hurt). For nearly an hour, we’re treated to a series of elaborate (and dare I say it? — highly improbable) action sequences. The capper involves a Lear jet landing on a — ready? — bridge in the middle of Downtown L.A. The final hour is nearly all nonstop action, and is probably only a couple of destroyed buildings shy of matching the Downtown rampage of “Terminator 3”. To give the film credit, the first half spends more time with the characters than a movie like this normally bothers with. Even so, we barely know the characters, including Farrell’s Street and Jackson’s Hondo (in fact, we don’t know anything about Hondo), but what we do get is more than one expects.

“SWAT” is everything you expect from a Summer Action Movie. It’s loud and mostly superficial, and the action is nicely captured by director Clark Johnson, who proves to be quite good, much to my surprise. Johnson and cinematographer Gabriel Beristain even throws in Ryan’s War POV during the gunplay, making the violence look very effective. Although people get shot all over the place, the movie is mostly bloodless (hence the PG-13 rating).

Although “SWAT” did annoy me with one thing, leading to this conclusion: It’s time Hollywood retires the Hollywood Bank Job Shootout, a cop movie clich’ that was given birth when two real robbers, decked out in bullet proof armor, spent 44 minutes shooting the L.A.P.D. to ribbons some years back, all of it shown on live TV. Since then, every movie and TV cop show has mimicked the event. Guys, it’s time to stop. How many times do we have to see it?

Aside from his Irish accent creeping into his dialogue every now and then, Colin Farrell has really become an effective leading man. I’ll admit that I wasn’t a fan of his when he first surfaced; I’ve since converted, thanks to “The Recruit” and “Phone Booth”. The man has a lot of charisma, and carries the leading man banner with aplomb. Of course it helps to have Samuel L. Jackson providing firepower whenever the movie sags. I know it’s fashionable to say so, but it’s true: Jackson seems incapable of giving a bad performance.

“SWAT” isn’t Oscar material, but then again it was never meant to be. For what it is, it’s a dandy of a Summer Action Movie. I wouldn’t even mind a sequel.

Clark Johnson (director) / Ron Mita, Jim McClain, David Ayer, David McKenna (screenplay)
CAST: Samuel L. Jackson …. Sgt. Hondo
Colin Farrell …. Jim Street
Michelle Rodriguez …. Chris Sanchez
LL Cool J …. Deke Kay
Josh Charles …. T.J. McCabe
Jeremy Renner …. Brian Gamble
Brian Van Holt …. Michael Boxer
Olivier Martinez …. Alex Montel

Buy S.W.A.T. on DVD