Film » Screens

Officers Down Pat

S.W.A.T. delivers -- but only what you expect.

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Colin Farrell is dressed to kill in S.W.A.T.
  • Colin Farrell is dressed to kill in S.W.A.T.

Not to worry. Whenever summer machismo levels threaten to fall below mad-dog range, Hollywood invariably steps in to restore the status quo. Witness S.W.A.T. , a thoroughly unremarkable police-action movie, starring the magnetic Samuel L. Jackson as L.A.P.D. Sergeant Dan "Hondo" Harrelson -- known affectionately to his men as "the gold standard of ass-kickin''" -- and the noticeably less magnetic Colin Farrell as young Jim Street, a recently demoted cop whose ass-kickin' credentials have always been, say, silver, and who now hungers for another chance to reach the top.

All in good time (which is to say, about 35 minutes), these two defenders of the public tranquility join up with a handful of other comrades on a newly formed ass-kickin' unit -- a kind of Dirty Dozen of police work -- and proceed to lace up their boots. For purposes of broad box-office appeal, the new S.W.A.T. team, led by our man, Hondo, is as socially diverse as any Marine platoon you've ever seen in a combat movie. There's a white guy (Josh Charles), a black guy (LL Cool J), and a sneering, tough-as-nails Latina, who also happens to be a single mother (Michelle Rodriguez). Hondo even interviews a vegetarian, but he doesn't make the cut. How could he, in a movie so obviously enamored of red meat? Still, when it comes to kickin' ass, the L.A.P.D. is an equal-opportunity employer.

Aside from its obvious recruitment-film qualities, S.W.A.T. (loosely based on the old '70s TV series) seeks to demonstrate all the latest gewgaws and gizmos. Along with the usual squadrons of black police helicopters, you've got lots of space-age automatic pistols and 50-caliber sniper rifles with night-vision scopes, ultra-cool communications systems, portable blowtorches, armored trucks the size of condominiums (look for these soon at your local Hummer dealer), and a huge bazooka that can shoot a spear through the side of a house -- catching its hooks against the inner wall, so that our heroes can yank the entire place to the ground like a crushed matchbox.

Drenched in blood, sweat, and testosterone, the members of Hondo's team are dedicated to the propositions that bonding is good, blowing away bad guys is better, and the best thing of all may be -- as it was for their brother-in-arms, Dirty Harry Callahan --to destroy the ego of the stupid, bureaucratic, and vindictive police captain (Larry Poindexter) who presumes to rein in their communal free spirit and their deathless commitment to justice.

For those who've been wasting their time on church, reading, and homework instead of memorizing cop lingo, "S.W.A.T." still stands for "Special Weapons and Tactics," and our dauntless crew deploys plenty of both -- all the better to track down a slick international drug dealer named Alex Montel (Olivier Martinez) -- an unclean, American-hating Frenchman, of course -- who's so cocky that he offers a $100 million reward to anyone who can spring him from police custody. Times are hard, so the would-be freedom fighters start lining up right away. Expect the usual mayhem -- blown-up helicopters, 80-car freeway pileups, hostage-stuffed Lear Jets landing on city bridges, and assorted gun battles enacted in subway tunnels, storm sewers, and railroad yards at midnight.

Their heads bloodied but unbowed (not even by betrayal in the ranks), our S.W.A.T. heroes come to win the day. But you already figured on that. The movie loves them so much that it has a buxom young woman on a sidewalk pull her sweater up as their convoy of exotic vehicles streams past.

The authors of this relentless high-budget carnage include four writers -- the team of Ron Mita and Jim McClain, which is credited (for some reason) with "story," and the second team of David Ayer (Training Day) and David McKenna (American History X) who get credit for "screenplay." It's hard to know who did what to whom here, but S.W.A.T. is anything but what script doctors like to call "character-driven," and the most compelling dialogue comes in the form of barked orders. "Take a head shot!" one cop yells, and, yes -- no sooner does he say so than a bad guy gets a large-caliber slug between the eyes. The director here is Clark Johnson, who made his bones overseeing episodes of high-profile TV series -- The Shield, The West Wing, and NYPD Blue, among others. He appears to have the mid-summer, big-screen formula down pat. To wit: Keep the talk simple and the explosions constant. It's hard to know how many blocks S.W.A.T. will bust in the coming weeks, but it will be hard to beat for sheer destruction. Let's hope Samuel L. Jackson got paid in dollars-per-bullet-fired rather than in dollars-per-word-uttered.

What else is there to say? Hormonally active teenagers and serious candidates for the police academy are likely to devour this ultra-familiar stuff. Civil libertarians and devotees of the ballet are advised to steer clear. In other words, this is August.

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