S.W.A.T. | Film | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper


TV cops -- Now with bigger guns!

In the late '60s, Los Angeles created the S.W.A.T. (Special Weapons and Tactics) police spin-off, a militarized special-forces unit formed in response to urban crises deemed too tough for regular flatfeet. Later, L.A. gave us S.W.A.T. , a short-lived mid-'70s TV series about such cops noted at the time for its shoot-first violence and remembered, if at all, for its catchy theme song. And now, from the stagnant pond that is Hollywood, comes S.W.A.T. , the slick big-screen version of the TV show, directed by first-timer Clark Johnson.

The first hour of the film is largely pointless: We open with the gun-slinging incident that busts S.W.A.T. hottie Street (Colin Farrell) down to the gun cage and gets his partner fired. Enter Lt. Hondo (Samuel L. Jackson), former S.W.A.T. commander called to put together a super-special S.W.A.T. team. The team is assembled -- straight from the big book of cop-film clichés: the authority-defying Street, his cocky rival (Josh Charles), a Hispanic woman (Michelle Rodriguez), a homey (LL Cool J) and a chew-spittin' good ol' boy (Brian Van Holt).

There's a montage of training a la Rocky, and a couple of light tasks to get the team juiced up and bonded. After this preamble -- finally! -- they get a criminal worth their time, a French mobster (Oliver Martinez) who complicates his routine trip to jail by offering $100,000,000 to anyone who frees him en route. Cue action. Leave no vehicle unexploded, be it train, plane or automobile.

Cops in movies used to be good guys, then they were bad, then they compromised on being a little of both. Now it seems, cops are good again -- even the much-maligned L.A. police. Disregarding reality, there's no critique here of what amounts to sanctioned urban warfare: These S.W.A.T. guys cause as much mayhem as they purportedly prevent. Johnson doesn't even bother to establish L.A. as some unique hell-on-earth -- true or not -- that warrants such heavy-handed police work.

S.W.A.T. is simply a live-action cartoon, a silly collection of one-dimensional characters, hopping from one ludicrous set-up to another while spouting wisdom like "Bring your A game." The marquee actors Farrell and Jackson are on the job; they get a little chemistry going early -- Jackson's the understanding dad, himself a former bad boy -- but thereafter, they hardly speak again.

Johnson directs with typical flashy style -- lots of swirly camera, everything stitched together chop-chop-chop. Between the fast edits and the heavy S.W.A.T. gear, I often couldn't tell who I was watching. Like the outcome was ever in doubt. For despite all the pyrotechnics and the fancy high-tech toys, it ends as it always must: in that male-myth bizarro world where the code demands weapons be tossed aside and differences settled with over-miked punches. That, kids, is old-school crime-fighting.

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