Posted: 08/12/2003

 

S.W.A.T.

(2003)

by Del Harvey



Film version of familiar ’70s TV series makes for good action tale, thanks to director Clark Johnson.


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As enjoyable as this film might be, it begs the question, “When will this trend of recycling old television shows into blockbuster films cease? At Dawson’s Creek: The Movie?” While those among you who are die-hard fans of Dawson’s Creek catch your breath, the rest of us will take our collective sigh and move on, knowing full well it’s a sure sign that our culture is devouring its own soul when film versions of Big Brother, The Practice, or e/r show up at the local Megaplex.

The obvious bad-mindedness of taking S.W.A.T. to the big screen aside, to be perfectly fair, this is one of the summer’s better action pictures. There are plenty of requisite foot chases, car chases, fistfights, gunplay, and explosions to rival any other film this year. Excluding, that is, any of the Matrix films.

We are introduced to the characters, given just enough personal info to be invested in them and shown where the important conflicts and connections are. And the set-ups and pay-offs are efficiently and effectively handled. The morality is a bit thick, but this is easily attributed to the events of 9/11 and subsequent hero worship of a collective nation, and the fact that S.W.A.T., the original TV series, provides the perfect venue for such continued worship.

If you’ve seen the trailer for this film, and only a hermit without a television wouldn’t have, then you probably think you know the story. If you’re a veteran filmgoer and have any concept of story, it would seem as though you know the “big twist” which sets up the ending. Thanks primarily to director Clark Johnson, this is not the case. What makes the film stand out are the interactions between main characters Sgt. Hondo (Samuel L. Jackson), Officer Jim Street (Colin Farrell), and their respective nemeses. Once these rivalries have been established, we are off on a nicely paced action drama that does not fail to hold interest. Even though the material is definitely familiar and the filmmakers break no new ground; S.W.A.T. remains quite entertaining. Largely thanks to director Clark Johnson, the film seems to set appropriate limits for itself and operates within those parameters. However, it is not at all realistic, yet it does not seriously strain creditability the way so many of this summer’s films have. In spite of that, if you like cop/crime/action/adventure films, you will definitely get your money’s worth here. (Thanks to Wayne for these insightful comments.

The cast is above-average. The usually quite good Samuel L. Jackson (Pulp Fiction, Shaft, A Time To Kill) is in fine form here. Colin Farrell (Phone Booth, The Recruit) shows us how good he can look holding a gun and then takes it one step further by bringing some real interest to his character when he opens his mouth. LL Cool J has had his share of bad (Rollerball) and good roles (Any Given Sunday), and does a fine job with his supporting role here. The lovely Michelle Rodriguez (Girlfight) improves her image of hot-chick-with-muscles to good effect here. The simmering Olivier Martinez (Unfaithful) does his best with an unglamorous role as an ultra rich French gangster.

This is director Clark Johnson’s first theatrical film. His most recent success as a director has been with HBO’s superb crime drama The Wire. His other TV credits read like the perfect resume for a film such as S.W.A.T.: episodes of Homicide: Life on the Streets, Law & Order, NYPD Blue, West Wing, Third Watch, The Shield. If you watched the quite excellent series Homicide: Life on the Streets, then you know Mr. Johnson as Detective Meldrick Lewis. He even gets in a cameo here as LL Cool J’s partner who is nearly beaned by an angry woman with a frying pan. He also brings along Dominick Lombardozzi from The Wire, here playing GQ, Olivier Martinez’ silent but deadly henchman. And Reed Diamond, also from Homicide: Life on the Streets, has a bit part as a potential candidate for Hondo’s team.

Again, I can only agree with Wayne in his observation that Mr. Johnson does an excellent job here and deserves future assignments in the majors.

Del Harvey is the founder of Film Monthly, a film teacher, a writer and a film critic in Chicago.



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