It’s like watching the Bad News Bears with guns and Kevlar—unintentionally laughable. Take Sam Jackson (who’s sometimes great, sometimes not) handpicking a “special” fantasy action SWAT team that consists of an action junkie who’s been kicked off the SWAT team once before, a black rapper trying to hang on to his acting career by starring in a TV show adaptation, an Amazonian Latina chick to balance out the race and gender box and two frivolous white dudes who can get shot the hell up at any time because no one cares about them except the characters in the movie.
David Ayer writes some complex characters--the basis to all of his stories (Training Day, Dark Blue). One pitiful attempt at complexity is Colin Farrell’s “Jim Street” character who’s a borderline alkie due to the rigors of SWAT, but this fact isn’t revealed in the narrative, but in the music montage. And it's just a blink of an eye. Street vomits after a run but it’s cut so quickly you could miss it. Plus, the scene with his foxy and tattooed girlfriend leaving him suggests that he’s changed-- insinuating a past when he was more reckless—which was like six months ago. It’s also unclear whether or not Jim Street actually ratted out his partner to protect his own career. These would’ve been interesting issues to get into and somehow I think the studio decided to get in there and hack up the script to make the Street character more sellable to the audience—the Hollywood Homogenization Machine strikes again. This had the makings of an interesting character study along with some gritty action, but instead it’s more like a multi-million dollar pilot for resurrecting the TV show.
The characters in S.W.A.T. are flat and mundane. There’s a reason for this. In order for the film to agree with mass consumption (which brings in the large-type box office revenue), the main characters must not have any intellectually-challenging qualms with their job, despite the fact that the bad guys are more interesting and dynamic. The studios are making loud, rambunctious, idiot-laden plots so the audience can be clear on who to root for—the BNB-SWAT team, the James Bonds, the action hero flavor-of-the-month. If the filmmakers added too much depth to the protagonists then they run the risk of the audience rejecting that character--which can make you side with the bad guys (although you already do). Think of Mel Gibson in Lethal Weapon: A suicidal cop, with Special Forces training under his belt, partnered up with a family man who’s about to retire. Creates for an interesting dynamic. Although that movie was a huge money-maker, a suicidal cop today doesn’t work if you’re doing a crowd-pleasing recruitment picture. But stale action cut-outs like The Italian Job, The Matrix Reloaded, xXx, Charlie’s Angels, Mission: Impossible, makes one lack a sense of interest in the story. You can have great action (which S.W.A.T. does not, by the way), but when the characters are lacking, then interest is lost. There’s no sense of urgency required for the action to feel like something could happen to someone you care about. Think about your best friend hanging off the side of a moving 18-wheeler speeding about 90 MPH and you’re making every desperate attempt to save him/her before the wheels suck him/her under. It just adds a little more tension to the sequence. Action flicks today need to change and change quick --if there’s ever gonna be a future for this genre.
Now that you got this band of misfits, can they perform when duty calls? Well, before the plot gets under way, we have to sift through tens of minutes of training, testosteronian quips of each other’s assorted family members, bad music videos, witty wagers on who can kick whose ass at whatever insignificant antic, how many of the original S.W.A.T. actors can they fit into a cameo, why everyone hates the asshole Captain and of course, educating the audience on what it means to be SWAT. After all, it’s not like we’ve had three decades of re-runs and hundreds of movies featuring SWAT teams. So, while “our heroes” are doing their thing at their little cub scout camp of pyro-jizz and paint-ballistic combat, a plot is being written.
Alex, a French ganglander, gets himself arrested after killing his uncle in a restaurant because he stole an unspecified amount of money from the French mob. Of course, this is the town of media mania, Los Angeles, and Alex offers over live TV that he’ll shell out $100,000,000 (that’s 4 Arnold Schwarzenegger contracts) and zero cents (tax-free of course) for anyone that busts him out of prison. So the city gets turned on its head with barrage of gunfire, explosions, chases and bodies, bodies, bodies. Gotta hand it to the MPAA for cranking out a PG-13 rating on this bodycount. It’s okay to kill hundreds of people just as long as you don’t show the consequences. Then after this inciting incident (film school talk for “setting the plot in motion”) which happens 90 minutes into the movie, it’s time for Sam Jackson’s special BNB-SWAT team to find out who’s behind all this and kill the big bad. Not arrest him, but kill him. Because that’s what cops are supposed to do. Kill everyone who doesn’t pay their parking tickets.
S.W.A.T. is nothing more that an elongated recruitment flick to entice the younger, dumber kids of today to be the corrupt LAPD of tomorrow. I can’t speak for other jurisdictions, but the LAPD is one of the most corrupt institutions in the law enforcement racket. While there are some good cops, the bad ones out number the good ones and the smart ones keep their mouths shut. And yet to do flat-out recruitment in our cinema houses, where we shell out 10 bucks a pop, should be illegal. It would be one thing if the filmmakers cared about writing interesting characters and a decent plot then the forfeiture of our pay checks might feel justified.
There is some good in S.W.A.T. and that’s Elliot Goldenthal’s score. It doesn’t help that he works in the S.W.A.T. Theme every time the SWAT van squeals around a corner or when they repel from a helicopter in slow-mo, but when he works that magic he works when he’s composing his own thing it just flat-out works. It’s a mix of brass, synthetic rock, oddball sound effects and sometimes an angelic chorus thrown in. Other available scores by Elliot Goldenthal: Demolition Man, Titus, Interview With the Vampire, Sphere, Batman Forever, Michael Collins, Frida, Alien3, Pet Sematary, Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within.
P.S. - If you get stopped by an LAPD cop while you’re in town, give him a sarcastic ass-whipping for me. What’s he gonna do, kill you?
S.W.A.T. (1 ˝ out of Four)
PG-13, 2003, 111 min., Columbia Pictures.
Samuel L. Jackson, Colin Farrell, Michelle Rodriguez, LL Cool J, Brian Van Holt, Jeremy Renner, Josh Charles, Oliver Martinez, Music by Elliot Goldenthal, Produced by Neal H. Moritz, Dan Halsted, Chris Lee, Written by David Ayer and David McKenna and Directed by Clark Johnson.
Coppin’ a Flick:
Training Day, Year of the Dragon, Black Rain, The Negotiator, Chinatown, Dark Blue, The Devil’s Own, Hollywood Homicide, Heat, The Last Centurions, Bullit, Cop Land, Beyond the Law, The French Connection Parts 1 and 2, Point Break, Fort Apache The Bronx, Colors, Unlawful Entry, LA Confidential, The Bad Lieutenant (Unrated), The Corruptor, A Man Apart, Dirty Harry, The Enforcer, Magnum Force, Sudden Impact, The Dead Pool, The Presidio, The General’s Daughter, The Rookie, A Perfect World, Red Heat, Lethal Weapon 1, 2, 3 and 4, Die Hard 1, 2 and 3, Cop, Homicide, Best Seller, Kiss the Girls, Along Came a Spider, 48 Hrs., Another 48 Hrs., Angel Heart, Out of Sight, Manhunter, Silence of the Lambs, Internal Affairs, Face/Off, Hardboiled, The Rock, Bad Boys, Bad Boys II, National Security, Blue Steel, Blue Streak, Blade Runner: Director’s Cut…