“S.W.A.T.” is one of those guilty pleasures of the summer. It’s also one of those action movies that could have been ruined if Jerry Bruckheimer had taken charge of it. Fortunately, Bruckheimer is too busy counting his money from Pirates of the Caribbean and Bad Boys II.
When I first saw the previews for “S.W.A.T.,” I said, “Oh great. Just what we need. Another movie with Colin Farrell.” As a fellow Irishman, I kinda like Farrell for not shying away from the politically incorrect stereotypes of being a foul-mouthed, brawling, womanizing drunk. However, even a proud Irishman like myself can be on Colin overload. After all, his resume includes some real stinkers like The Recruit, Daredevil and Minority Report. Like many of Hollywood’s elite, it seems that Farrell is more of a celebrity for how he acts when he’s not in his movies (such as canoodling with Britney Spears and swearing up a storm on talk shows).
Jim Street (Colin Farrell) is a S.W.A.T. team member who is pulled off duty after his partner botches a hostage situation. While his partner leaves the force, Street sticks around for his chance to be on S.W.A.T. again. This chance comes in the form of the unconventional Sergeant Dan “Hondo” Harrelson (Samuel L. Jackson), who is assembling a new team to take S.W.A.T. back to the old school. The team stumbles into an assignment to protect international fugitive Alex Montel (Olivier Martinez), who has offered a cash reward larger than this film’s budget for anyone who can help him escape.
I have to admit a lack of pop culture knowledge on my part. I was completely unaware of the original “S.W.A.T.” television show from the mid-1970s. While I watched my fair share of “CHiPs” during my childhood, somehow “S.W.A.T.” was lost on me. (Perhaps this was because the original “S.W.A.T.” only lasted two years while “CHiPs” ran for seven seasons.) However, the music theme did sound somewhat familiar.
On the surface, “S.W.A.T.” appears to be just another film in the long line of supercop movies, like “Bad Boys,” A Man Apart and Cradle 2 the Grave. However, while “S.W.A.T.” hits on practically every cop movie cliche, it just seems to work. Part of this may be because it makes no apologies for using them. Unlike some films, “S.W.A.T.” doesn’t pretend to be original, and in the sea of cop movies lining the shelves of Blockbuster, you really can’t be.
However, the plot does offer a few surprises, not necessarily in what they do but how they pull it off. We’ve all seen the trailers in which international drug kingpin Alex Montel (Olivier Martinez) offers to pay $100 million to anyone who breaks him out of prison. In a lesser movie, the director would take you through the motions of the cops bringing the drug lord down in his hideout, then swept away to federal prison. That’s what we’re expecting, after all.
But “S.W.A.T.” busts the trailer spoilers open by following Montel around for half the movie and leaving us to guess how he is actually going to be captured. The route that he eventually takes is a refreshing spin, and not unrealistic in light of how some high-profile criminals have been caught.
Another way the movie uses clichés without care is the completely unsubtle conflict between Street and his former S.W.A.T. partner Brian Gamble (Jeremy Renner). Gamble is a hotheaded rebel, and we are constantly reminded that he’s out there by having him show up in a bar to pick a fight with Street. Add this to the fact that in all the trailers, they say an ex-S.W.A.T. guy is leading the attack, and only a moron would be surprised that he is trying to spring Montel.
What’s refreshing about this approach is that the film makes no pretense to hide the fact that Gamble is the bad guy. To do so would have been futile. Unlike Charlie’s Angels 2, which thought it was being sneaky by hiding Demi Moore as the villain (even though all the press could talk about was her new role as the bad girl), “S.W.A.T.” doesn’t try to be too clever.
Other cool cast members include the ever-smooth Samuel L. Jackson as the maverick S.W.A.T. leader and LL Cool J (simultaneously credited with his birth name, James Todd Smith) as one of the team members. Michelle Rodriguez plays her stock tough girl character, but the choices the make for her – including making her an unannoying single mom and how she deals with Street’s advances – give her a bit of freshness.
Sure, there are problems with “S.W.A.T.” Director Clark Johnson, who got his start on television, enjoys using random video clips in a multi-format approach far too much. The side story with Street’s girlfriend is completely out of place and needless in the film. The dialogue is about as clichéd as the plot itself. But any of these warts are forgivable in the light of it being just a dumb summer action flick.