S.W.A.T.
2003
In this slick actioner inspired by the 1970s TV series, veteran Los Angeles cop Hondo Harrelson is tasked with drafting and training an elite special weapons and tactics team -- who soon find themselves up against a crafty international criminal.

Scott Hardie: “It was ok.”

The reviews for this film praised it for not making some of the same mistakes most action movies make (such as defying physics and surrendering to the urge for ridiculous chase scenes), but avoiding the pitfalls of its peers is never enough to make a film good in its own right. Besides, it commits other mistakes left and right, like giving us a police captain who doubts the heroes at every step for no apparent reason, and languishing in tin-eared clich├ęs about loose-cannon officers and disloyal family criminals. To me, the most annoying element was the constant quoting of the original theme song in the score, as though the film was desperate to have something, anything, in common with the original series after it paid for the rights. (This brings to mind the question of how the main characters know of the original series well enough to sing its theme song yet don't notice that they all have the same names as the TV cops.)

What the film gets right is the action. The bridge scenes, especially a realistic-looking CGI plane landing, are very well-executed. It's always clear when we're watching stuntmen (a fistfight in the shadows? come on), but both the stuntmen and the actors bring a plausible feel to the action, appearing tired after climbing and running and fighting. The premise of the film, a crime war in the streets of L.A. over an international criminal, seems reasonably represented in one sequence when a street gang acquires some rocket launchers and goes after their quarry. (I think we're supposed to assume that more such scenes are taking place throughout the city, but some mention of the fact would have helped.)

Little surprise, the film is weak on characterization, despite a few good throwaway lines likely improvised by the actors such as the Tupperware reference. Olivier Martinez does a good job of building an interesting character over the course of two hours, only to watch the film discard him as a supporting villain (?!) in the final minutes. The conflicts between characters are canned bullshit, such as "you broke my sister's heart! (for reasons that are never explained)" and "partners are supposed to stand up for one another! (even when one of them is a poison in the unit)." The film presents the illusion of interesting supporting characters by hiring interesting supporting actors such as LL Cool J and Michelle Rodriguez, but they are introduced in a hurry and dropped from the action in an even bigger hurry. The only justice the film does by its characters is a sequence showing what each of them is doing in the moments before the call to action comes, a montage that demonstrates a creativity and thoughtfulness otherwise lacking from the film.

Good action films are hard to do, but this one succeeds at the biggest challenge, providing original, entertaining, and sufficient action. It's a failure in the other elements, making it passable entertainment at best. For a smarter, better-acted cop film that is not afraid to confront questions of police morality (something that "S.W.A.T." shies away from despite several opportunities), rent Dark Blue, which even manages to do a better job of showing Los Angeles descending into criminal chaos.

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