Movie Information

Genre: Action Adventure
Director: Clark Johnson
Starring: Samuel L. Jackson, Colin Farrell, Michelle Rodriguez, LL Cool J, Olivier Martinez
Rated: PG-13

If it weren’t for the fact that it’s about 20 minutes too long and frankly rather boring, S.W.A.T. might just succeed on the merits of unintentional laughs. Unfortunately, the film is everything you expect, and less.

If you’ve seen the trailer, you already know that the plot revolves around an arrested crime boss (Olivier Martinez — still sounding like Ricky Ricardo, even though he’s French) screaming out an offer of “one-hundred meel-lion doll-airs” to anyone who can spring him while he’s being transferred from one prison to another, whipping a section of the populace into a frenzy of improbably high-powered illicit activity. You know that. I know that. The film, on the other hand, takes about 75 of its 117 minutes just to get to that.

This may be the legacy of adapting yet another — and somewhat less than stellar — Aaron Spelling TV series to the big screen. The thought of turning 50 minutes of TV plot into a movie may have so overwhelmed writers Rob Mita (author of the direct-to-video Sniper 2), Jim McClain (who shares that single previous credential with Mr. Mita), David Ayer (Dark Blue) and David McKenna (Blow) that they could only come up with that much plot. But then they must have pondered, “Whatever shall we do with the rest of the running time?” The answer must have come to them like a 30-second spot for L’Oreal: Backstory! Of course.

Never mind that no one really cares about these cardboard characters. And never mind that all they are supposed to do is carry big guns and look really cool and shoot more ammo than was fired at Normandy on D-Day. Happily oblivious to all this, our staunch writing team gave us true characters. And, oh, what a grievous error that was.

The problem is that no one writing S.W.A.T (oh, how that first letter cries to be switched with another consonant!) seems to have ever gotten beyond bad TV in the realm of characterization. Nor do they understand that Colin Farrell’s public persona of “Lock up your daughters and hide the chickens” makes it a spectacularly bad idea to try to turn him into a sensitive, caring guy who gets all weepy when his girl dumps him. (Did they learn nothing from that classic moment that had audiences convulsed with laughter in Exorcist II, where a priest played by the notoriously womanizing Richard Burton was asked, “Father, don’t you ever need a woman?”)

What passes for backstory is a collection of cliches so thick that you’d have an easier time counting the stars in heaven than cataloging them. Farrell, of course, is a hotshot S.W.A.T. team hot dog with a taste for breaking the rules. He has a partner who’s even worse, and whose antics get them both busted; and while Farrell takes his punishment like a good little soldier, his partner goes off in a snit. Boy, I wonder where this is going?

Did I mention that Farrell also has a superior officer who hates him? This guy also hates the Samuel L. Jackson character, who’s been brought back to the force (it’s never quite clear why he was ever gone) to counter a flurry of bad PR by creating an elitist S.W.A.T. group. Jackson further alienates the superior officer by insisting on recruiting not only the semi-disgraced Farrell, but also a female (Michelle Rodriguez) in the bargain. All this — plus endless training exercises and a scene where Jackson and LL Cool J “meet cute” in cop terms — makes up the bulk of the film. And it’s every bit as underwhelming as it sounds.

Just in case we forget that we’re mired in 75 minutes in search of a plot, we’re occasionally afforded glimpses of Martinez’s very PG-13 atrocities and brushes with the law. By the time this film lurches its way to the “one-hundred meel-lion doll-airs” business, it’s very unlikely you’ll care what happens. And even if you do, that’s apt to be killed once the transparent plotting becomes so annoying and seemingly endless in its pursuit of our being surprised (we’re not) by just who’s behind the scheme to relieve Martinez of the promised booty.

There’s also an interminable sequence set in the L.A. sewer system (cue the Third Man zither music!) complete with a gratuitous display of CGI bat action. The direction by TV’s Clark Johnson is essentially competent, but the man has apparently toiled in television for so long that he doesn’t realize this is all arrant nonsense decked out in the most inane dialogue imaginable, and that directing this thing as if it were Shakespeare with shootouts does it no favors.

The explosion quotient, of course, will please those who gauge movie quality by the decibel level of bone-jarring THX sound. But on any other level, I think J-Lo said it best only last week: “It’s turkey time.”

— reviewed by Ken Hanke

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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