Jim Street (Colin Farrell) was thrown off of the prestigious LAPD S.W.A.T. team when his partner Brian Gamble's (Jeremy Renner) indiscreet decision put civilians in danger during a hostage crisis. When Sergeant Dan "Hondo" Harrelson (Samuel L. Jackson) is brought in to form a new special weapons and tactics unit Street gets a second chance to join the elite force and fight the bad guys in "S.W.A.T."
In this summer of sequels it is almost a breath of fresh air to see an action film that doesn't have a number at the end of the title. Sure, "S.W.A.T." is the spawn of the popular 70's TV series by the same name but the feature is more an "inspired by" than a rehash of the past program.
The new "S.W.A.T." opens with a bang, literally, as a heavily armed group of bank robbers blast the hell out of the LAPD surrounding the building. Enter the high tech S.W.A.T. team as they swarm the building and prepare to take the bad guys down. Officers Street and Gamble gain access inside and, just as they are about to get the drop on the robbers, they are ordered to stand down. Gamble, acting on his own volition, fires on the criminals and wounds a civilian in the process. Though they quelled the crisis, the two cops are thrown off of the team by their captain, Thomas Fuller (Larry Poindexter). Disgusted, Gamble quits the force while Street takes a desk job as penance for his partner's controversial decision.
Jim takes his punishment quietly, cleaning other cop's guns and boots and hoping to get back in the field, until Sergeant Harrelson arrives on the scene with orders to form a new action unit. He requisitions Street as his driver as they go about the city interviewing potential recruits for the new team. Hondo fills his roster with the best as he brings in hotshot T.J. McCabe (Josh Charles), gung ho Michael Boxer (Brian Van Holt), cocky Deacon "Deke" Kaye (James Todd Smith aka LL Cool J) and under appreciated Chris Sanchez (Michelle Rodriquez). Hondo also pushes to get Street on his team despite the fact that the young cop is on the outs with his Captain Fuller over the civilian shooting incident months before.
With his team thus established, Hondo sets out to train them as a unit and hone them to be the elite of the elite. The gang of five is put through the rigorous training paces and pass the big test with flying colors and in record time. Almost immediately, they are called into action when they must face a "Polish" hostage situation - if the police break in the perpetrator threatens to kill himself. A clever device, invented by Street, for tearing down a wall is brought into play and the team safely defuses the situation.
But, Hondo and his crack recruits must face a bigger, more sinister crisis when the notorious European drug kingpin, Alex Montel (Olivier Martinez), is captured and the S.W.A.T. team must escort the criminal to Federal custody. The cut-and-dried mission is made deadly when Martel announces to the media that he will pay $100 million to anyone who can free him. Suddenly, bad guys are coming out of the woodwork to liberate the drug lord as ruthless mercenaries put the police under siege to collect Martel's reward.
"S.W.A.T." is a by-the-numbers actioner as it establishes the main characters, goes through the recruitment process, training, testing of their skills and, finally, sending the team into the field. The requisite set pieces of shootouts and chases take place as the bad guys try to wrest Martel from the hands of the good guys. Along the way there is betrayal and heroism and, as you would expect, the big win for the A-team. The climax, involving a Lear jet landing on the 6th Street bridge, is clever and exciting - all in keeping with the pace and craftsman-like build up that bring us there. The various chases and shootouts are nicely choreographed and as good as any seen this summer.
This is not an actor's film but the caliber of the cast is first rate and its various members do their best to give their character's dimension. Samuel Jackson isn't given anything unique to do but the actor's incredible presence comes through nicely as the leader of his small but tough team. Colin Farrell does a yeoman's job as Jim Street as do the rest of the principals. Michelle Rodriguez, though placed in yet another tough chick role, is beginning to soften her usual dour demeanor and even smiles once or twice. Supporting cast helps fill out the background characters well. Olivier Martinez has the cockiness his ambitious drug lord character should have but his is not the best badass bad guy I have seen.
The screenplay by David Ayer and David McKenna (from the story by Ron Mita and Jim McClain) is straightforward and no nonsense as it delivers the required action, smart-ass banter and tension as the heroes do their job and thwart the bad guy's plans. Camera work by Mexican cinematographer Gabriel Beristain is in keeping with the overall crafting of "S.W.A.T." and gives the action sequences real energy. Other production values are also first rate.
There is a sizable audience out there that has fond memories of the TV series and this will be a draw for the film. The action and characters will also pull in those unfamiliar with the source material but fond of a first rate action flick. "S.W.A.T.," even though based on a TV show, has more originality built in than any of the bevy of sequels out there this summer. I give it a B.
Special Weapons and Tactics officer Jim Street (Colin Farrell, "Daredevil") helps his partner Brian Gamble (Jeremy Renner, "Dahmer") save a hostage during an armed bank robbery, but Brian gambled, ignoring a 'hold' order for heroics. The hostage (Heather Charles) sues the city for being clipped with Gamble's bullet and Captain Tom Fuller (Larry Poindexter, "Judgement Day") is outraged by his team's behavior. Gamble quits in disgust, furious that his partner also questions his behavior. Street accepts a demotion to the gun cage, cleaning boots and weapons with Gus (James DuMont, "Seabiscuit"), waiting for a change to rejoin "S.W.A.T."
Adapted from the 1975 television series by David Ayer ("Dark Blue," "Training Day") and David McKenna ("Blow") and directed by television cop show vet Clark Johnson (HBO's "The Wire," TV's "The West Wing," "NYPD Blue"), "S.W.A.T." is a fast paced action flick with an interesting hook - its villain, murdering, drug running, arms dealer Alex Montel (Olivier Martinez, "Unfaithful") inspires more villains to come out of the woodwork with his offer of 100 meeeeelion dollars to free him from LAPD custody.
This happens at a crucial time for the LAPD, which has just rerecruited some of its old school officers to bring back some of its luster. Lt. Dan 'Hondo' Harrelson (Samuel L. Jackson, "Changing Lanes") is one such and Street's banter and cocky attitude in the gun cage catches his attention. Tagging Street as his 'driver,' Hondo assembles his team. Boxer (Brian Van Holt, "Basic") and T.J. (Josh Charles, "Muppets From Space") are already S.W.A.T., having previously worked with Street, so Hondo needs to find three new guys to complete his team. David 'Deke' Kay (LL Cool J, "Deliver Us From Eva") is a beat cop from South Central. Hondo's shocked to find that his next choice, Chris Sanchez (Michelle Rodriguez, "Blue Crush"), is a woman given her tough reputation, but her smaller size will come in handy. Lastly, of course, is Street who Hondo has to fight Fuller for - if the team fails, he and Street are off the force.
With the deck stacked against them, the team has to bond in training. Boxer resents Street because of Street's recently broken relationship with his sister and Hot shot T.J. lost a marksman competition to him. Sanchez has the usual macho wall to scale. Still, with a mixture of work, humor and a little TV theme music humming, the gang passes their strenuous S.W.A.T. test. After one humorous job utilizing Street's 'Polish penetrator' invention (it tears down a wall of a booby-trapped home), the group is pitted against Montel.
Ayer and McKenna modernize the old TV show by making these heroes fallible. In a post Rodney King L.A., Dirty Harry tactics are dicier than ever (Captain Fuller tells Gamble 'Sometimes doing the right thing isn't doing the right thing.'). Redemption doesn't come to all, though, and the screenwriters give several early warning signs of whom to keep an eye on. Plenty of humor is injected through both over the top dialogue ('Let's get this frog in the bird') and situations (the team commandeers a prom limo). Street is the relationship lynchpin with his fallen angel partner and new mentor/boss. He's left in the lurch romantically, reconciliation with Boxer's sister kept open while single mom Sanchez looms as a possibility (this also sets up things nicely for a continuation to the series). The ensemble cast works well together led by pro Jackson and hot commodity Farrell. Rodriguez is loosening up nicely and Renner, so good in the little seen "Dahmer," holds his own with his higher profile castmates.
Clarkson shows no strain orchestrating complex action sequences on the big screen, and, admirably, has attempted to keep stunts within the realm of possibility - even the climatic Lear jet landing on L.A.'s 6th Street Bridge is presumably doable (CGI was used for the film, though). Cinematographer Gabriel Beristain ("Blade II") keeps the package looking slick and Elliot Goldenthal's ("The Good Thief") score helps propel the action with just the right amount of "S.W.A.T." theme riffs.
"S.W.A.T." strikes a nice balance of old and new that could make for a profitable franchise as long as it keeps its tactics special and its weapons in the hands of characters we care about.
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