S.W.A.T. review by Mike Long

Over the last 15 years, we've seen a glut of feature films based on or derived from television programs. The problem with these movies is that they usually take established or familiar characters and place in needlessly convoluted or contrived situations. But, S.W.A.T. is the exception to that rule. Actually it goes too far in the other direction. It simply takes ideas from the show and then never does anything with them.

In case you didn't know, S.W.A.T. is an acronym which stands for "Special Weapons and Tactics". This is the elite section of the police which is called in for hostage or extreme situations. As the film opens, a bank is being robbed and hostages are being held inside. (This scene is based on the real-life Los Angeles incident in which the heavily armed and armored assailants fought with police.) The S.W.A.T. team is called and members Jim Street (Colin Farrell) and Brian Gamble (Jeremy Reiner) enter the bank and disobeying orders, confront the robbers. Gamble is kicked off of the force and Street is bumped down to cleaning weapons.

Six months later, Sergeant Dan "Hondo" Harrelson (Samuel L. Jackson) is brought in to create a new S.W.A.T. team. He brings in Street, former members T.J. McCabe (Josh Charles) and Michael Boxer (Brian Van Holt) and two new members, David "Deke" Kay (LL Cool J) and Chris Sanchez (Michelle Rodriguez). Hondo then sets forth training this bunch. Their first assignments comes when a international felon, Alex Montel (Olivier Martinez) is to be transferred to prison. Unfortunately, Montel makes an announcement that he will give $100 million to anyone who helps him escape. The new S.W.A.T. must now fight off an army of hoodlums in order to complete their task.

S.W.A.T. deals with a S.W.A.T. team and some of the character names are the same, but that's where the similarity with the show ends. But, that's OK. While the show was good for its time, it was nothing great and wouldn't necessarily make the basis for a good movie. However, the writers forgot to bring in any other kind of story to make up for this. S.W.A.T. has to be one of the most pointless action films that I've seen in a long time, and that's saying a lot. The bulk of the film is concerned only with introducing the characters and assembling the team. This leads to a great deal of training footage and "drama" that the Captain may not approve Hondo's team. We are intrduced to Montel relatively early in the movie, but the "plot", dealing with his reward offer, doesn't show up until the 1:07:00 mark. This storyline is revealed and prominently displayed in S.W.A.T.'s trailer, so I had wrongly assumed that this was what the film was about. But, even with after this twist is brought into play, the movie still goes nowhere. There is a "shocking" twist during the final act which is telegraphed early in the film and the finale is quite abrupt and lackluster.

Director Clark Johnson does stage some nice action sequences, but it's nothing we haven't seen before. One shocking thing about S.W.A.T. is that this PG-13 feature is quite violent, as people are shot right and left, but a scene in which someone is stabbed in the hand is clearly heavily edited and comes off as confusing. S.W.A.T. is pretty and has a lot of familiar faces, but the movie definitely worth sending in the big guns for.

S.W.A.T. charges onto DVD courtesy of Columbia/Tri-Star Home Entertainment. The film is being released on DVD in separate full-frame and widescreen versions. For the purposes of this review, only the widescreen version was screened. The film has been letterboxed at 2.40:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. This is a very impressive transfer. The image is very sharp and clear, showing grain only in the gritty images where the director had this intention. The picture shows no defects from the source print and the image's clarity lends it a great deal of depth. The colors are true and the fleshtones look realistic. There is some indications of mild edge enhancement, but this isn't distracting. The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track is awesome, as it provides clear dialogue with no distortion. The use of surround sound is phenomenal and the gunfights sound amazing, as the gunfire fills the room, emanating from each speaker. These scenes are boosted by excellent bass response. Overall, this DVD has great audio and video specs.

The DVD contains many extra features, including two audio commentaries. Commentary 1 features director Clark Johnson, and actors Samuel L. Jackson, Josh Charles, Brian Van Holt, Michelle Rodriguez, LL Cool J and Jeremy Reiner. Unfortunately, Johnson was recorded separately from the cast, so their comments are all edited together. This comes down to Johnson making a serious comment which is then followed by the cast making a joke. Some of it is fun and some is informative, but it's most disjointed. The second commentary offers story writers Ron Mita & Jim McClain, and screenwriters David Ayer and David McKenna. This group is all together (although, they are meeting for the first time!) and their chat is much more engaging. Although, there isn't a great deal of engaging information here. They do offer some insight into the story, but more interestingly, they discuss how screenplays come together, given the various people involved.

Next up we have "Anatomy of a Shootout" (9 minutes), which examines the opening scene of S.W.A.T.. This segment looks at how this challenging scene was shot and how much of it echoes real life. We get an overall look at the film in "The Making of S.W.A.T." (21 minutes), which features extensive behind-the-scenes footage and interviews with the cast & crew. Even more analysis is offered with "6th Street Bridge -- Achieving the Impossible" (5 minutes), which looks at how the film's finale was conceived and shot. With "Sound & Fury -- The Sounds of S.W.A.T." we get a brief featurette which explains how a sound mix is done, followed by examples of the various gun sounds in the film, and finally a section in which the viewer can view four scenes and toggle between various audio tracks. There are eight deleted scenes, which are short for the most part and offer little to the story. "'S.W.A.T. -- TV's Original Super Cops" (7 minutes) takes a look at the TV show and features interviews with many of the original cast members. The extras are rounded out by a three-minute gag reel, filmographies, and bonus trailers.

4 out of 10 Jackasses

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