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Dustin Putman



Dustin's Review

S.W.A.T. (2003)
2 Stars

Directed by Clark Johnson
Cast: Colin Farrell, Samuel L. Jackson, Michelle Rodriguez, Josh Charles, James Todd Smith (aka LL Cool J), Jeremy Renner, Olivier Martinez, Brian Van Holt, Reginald E. Cathey, Larry Poindexter, Page Kennedy, Domenick Lombardozzi, James DuMont, Lucinda Jenney
2003 – 118 minutes
Rated: Rated PG-13 (for violence, language, and sexual references).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, August 10, 2003.

The one distinguishing factor of "S.W.A.T." over other television-to-movie adaptations is that it bypasses being a direct remake and, instead, is set in the real world where "S.W.A.T." was a hit cop drama of the 1970's. Otherwise, the film is nothing special—a by-the-numbers, high-octane actioner whose attempts at third-act plot twists are sloppily predictable. Meanwhile, an inordinate amount of scenes are spent deceptively developing characters that remain vague and subplots that disappear as fast as they begin.

When a mission is disobeyed and a hostage left wounded, S.W.A.T. officer Brian Gamble (Jeremy Renner) is fired, while partner Jim Street (Colin Farrell) chooses a downsized job over staying true to his friend. Switch forward six months, Jim is given a second chance on a new S.W.A.T. team chosen by veteran Lt. Hondo Harrelson (Samuel L. Jackson). Other new enlistees include go-getter Deke Kay (James Todd Smith); single mother and tough token female Chris Sanchez (Michelle Rodriguez); and refined pretty-boy T.J. McCabe (Josh Charles). When international drug and weapon smuggler Alex Montel (Olivier Martinez) is arrested, they are given the task of transporting him to prison—something that becomes increasingly difficult when Alex states on national television that anyone who breaks him free will be paid $100 million.

Directed by Clark Johnson, "S.W.A.T." manages to capture the viewer's attention, but only for as long as it takes to reveal its lack of focus and overall innovation. For the first 75 minutes, the picture has little in the way of a sharp-driving narrative, satisfied with merely prattling off disconnected scenes of superficial character development and elongated training montages with a blaring hard rock soundtrack. The strained friendship between Jim and Brian is the focal point of the prologue, but gets mostly lost in the shuffle soon after. Likewise, a potential romance between Jim and Chris is hinted at, but never carried through. Another scene in which Jim is dumped by his live-in girlfriend is maddeningly superfluous, as she is never seen or heard from again, and he never mentions her before or after the incident.

Finally, the premise shifts into overdrive just in time for a 30-minute action sequence set in the subway, the sewers, and on a bridge acting as a plane runway. The climax boasts technical showmanship, but little else. The final would-be surprise twists are about as subtle as a neon sign, painfully implausible and obvious. Most annoying of all is a denouement that lacks the very human element director Clark Johnson had gone to such great pains to set up in the first half. Because of this, the film ends up aimless and unsatisfying, if still a tolerable diversion.

Colin Farrell is the newest major bonafide movie star, and for good reason. Farrell is a charismatic and undeniably dedicated chameleon of an actor who transforms into every character he plays, from a rookie CIA trainee in 2003's "The Recruit," to the villain, Bullseye, in 2003's "Daredevil," to a hot-shot, womanizing agent in 2003's "Phone Booth." As talented S.W.A.T. member Jim Street, Farrell does his best, but this time is let down by little to no material to work with. In the name of big-budget, no-brains moviemaking, Farrell's untamed spark is traded in for edit cuts and action stunts. Lead co-star Samuel L. Jackson (2003's "Basic"), arguably the most talented African American performer in film today, has the same problem as Hondo Harrelson. Over the course of two hours, the amount of things that are learned about his character can be counted on one hand.

In supporting parts, Michelle Rodriguez (2002's "Blue Crush"), she of the requisite snarl and pout, actually gets a chance to smile this time out. At first, the change in her usual facial expression is disarming, but Rodriguez is actually pretty charming as the focused Chris Sanchez. And Jeremy Renner, chillingly unforgettable as serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer in 2002's "Dahmer," is a fresh and talented face who has the most interesting character to play—that of the slighted and gradually unhinged Brian Gamble. Completely wasted is the usually energetic James Todd Smith, aka LL Cool J (2003's "Deliver Us from Eva"), who has little to do and even less to say.

"S.W.A.T." is flashy, stylish, and workmanlike, but disappoints by never achieving what it teases at aspiring to. As a character drama, it is a flimsy, one-note disaster, and as an action flick, it does the trick but seems downright quaint in comparison to some of the bigger summer movies. However, as nothing more than a slight popcorn entertainment, the film could have been much, much worse. There is enjoyment to be had, mainly from seeing the top-notch and diverse cast work together, but it is all for nothing when one discovers how misused each of them are. "S.W.A.T." screams for another rewrite that never comes.
© 2003 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman