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S.W.A.T.   B

Columbia Pictures

Year Released: 2003
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Director: Clark Johnson
Writers: David Ayer, David McKenna
Cast: Samuel L. Jackson, Colin Farrell, Michelle Rodriguez, LL Cool J, Josh Charles, Brian Van Holt, Jeremy Renner, Olivier Martinez.

Review by Sean O'Connell

Amusement park junkies know the drill. It's the end of the day, and people are filtering out to their cars. Now's the perfect time to hit the park's biggest and best roller coaster. The lines are non-existent. The teenagers running the ride declare this to be the "last run" of the day. And you've got a prime seat in the first car.

S.W.A.T. is kind of like that "last run" roller coaster ride, the one we buckle ourselves in for following an exhausting summer of ruthlessly fast-paced blockbusters. We're looking for one final thrill before the park closes for the winter. And like the finest ride, S.W.A.T. starts off strong, delivers a few adrenaline rushes, and loses steam before it coasts to a stop and drops us off safe and sound.

Loosely based on the 1970's TV series, S.W.A.T. displays a strong working knowledge of the typical squad room. Director Clark Johnson learned the ropes on gritty television dramas such as The Shield and NYPD Blue. His experience turns S.W.A.T. into a comprehensive training video instead of a straight-up action flick. Ninety minutes are spent on police procedures, leaving a scant 30 minutes for the interesting story that waits patiently in the wings.

The lingering subplot involves nondescript foreign villain Alex (Olivier Martinez), who gets picked up by the LAPD on a technicality and makes a public offer of $100 million to anyone who can bust him out of jail. His promise unites the worst of the worst in an effort to free the criminal, forcing the officers of S.W.A.T. to transport Alex to a federal facility unharmed.

The film handpicks its warriors for their physique, not their acting chops. Colin Farrell gives attitude, Michelle Rodriguez scowls, and LL Cool J flexes, but none bring anything memorable to their parts. David Ayer and David McKenna's screenplay feeds them macho "cop speak," though only team leader Samuel L. Jackson delivers it with conviction.

The writers satisfy our need for explosions by shooting up an L.A. intersection, demolishing a commuter plane, and grounding a helicopter in the heart of midtown. With Johnson's technical approach, though, these sequences are more "by the book" than "raise the pulse." Instead, Johnson's film could (and should) be used for recruitment tactics. If S.W.A.T. can't convince us to vacate the couch and take up the war against crime, nothing will.

Review published 08.08.2003.

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