[Screen It]

(2003) (Colin Farrell, Samuel L. Jackson) (PG-13)

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Action/Adventure: A team commander assembles and trains a S.W.A.T. unit that must deal with various precarious situations including transporting a dangerous international criminal.
Jim Street (COLIN FARRELL) and Brian Gamble (JEREMY RENNER) are partners with L.A.'s Special Weapons and Tactics unit (S.W.A.T.) the deals with various situations too dangerous for the regular police. During a hostage standoff, they manage to save the day and the hostages, but not without breaking orders and injuring one of the hostages.

That brings the wrath of Capt. Thomas Fuller (LARRY POINDEXTER) who demotes them, prompting Gamble to quit. Street stays on, however, taking a low-profile, low-level position for the next six months until Commander Dan "Hondo" Harrelson (SAMUEL L. JACKSON) is assigned to put together a new team.

In addition to Street, he recruits and trains Deacon "Deke" Kaye (LL COOL J), Chris Sanchez (MICHELLE RODRIGUEZ), Michael Boxer (BRIAN VAN HOLT) and T.J. McCabe (JOSH CHARLES) and soon they're an efficient and successful unit, much to the dismay of Fuller. Yet, when international arms smuggler and drug dealer Alex Montel (OLIVIER MARTINEZ) shows up and takes care of family business with lethal force, it's up to the S.W.A.T. team to deal with him.

OUR TAKE: 4.5 out of 10
There's the old saying that those who don't study history are apt to repeat the mistakes of those who preceded them. It's a point that's been proven by history and one that should apply to the cinema and moviemakers as well.

Case in point is "S.W.A.T." Not only is it a remake of a mediocre TV drama that lasted just two years back in the 1970s, but it also takes a decent premise and a great cast and trashes both with tired cop story clichés, characters and an overblown and idiotic finale.

As a whole, it's not horrendous, though. It has some fun moments and it's certainly passable summer movie entertainment. Yet, as you watch it, you can't help but feel that there's nothing original, unique or memorable to be found anywhere within its nearly 120-minute runtime.

The fact that the film recycles so many worn out clichés - the overbearing, one-dimensional boss, the other cops who are jerks, the "drop my gun so that I can fight the villain mano a mano" conclusion, etc. - is depressing and quickly tries one's patience.

It also comes as a surprise considering that the actor turned director - Clark Johnson (TV's "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit," "Homicide: Life on the Street") - has worked on some of the better TV cop dramas of recent that purposefully avoid such clichéd material. All of which makes one wonder how much interference and/or instruction Johnson got from somewhere up top to include such ridiculous material.

Considering that background, however, perhaps it isn't so surprising that the overall effort feels like a two-hour pilot for a new TV drama. In the first half, the characters are introduced, assembled and trained, and must then handle one big crisis in the second before their allotted time is up. That first half - while resembling about a gazillion other movies and TV shows - isn't half bad. We get to see the terrific cast and there are some decent bits of humor as well as individual action moments.

Interspersed with them are scenes of Olivier Martinez ("Unfaithful," "Before Night Falls") as a French villain arriving in the country and bumping off his uncle in short order to gain control of the family business. He's the typical charming and slick movie villain, and we know it's only a matter of time before he does something that brings about the wrath of the S.W.A.T. team (which, by the way, stands for Special Weapons and Tactics).

What, you might ask, is the atrocity that he commits? Why, he's pulled over for a broken taillight (and then detained for that nasty uncle business). That then leads to the rest of the film involving the team trying to transport him to prison and then retrieve/stop him when he escapes once his cronies free him.

The problem is that it takes forever for all of that to occur, thus severely lessening the impact of the conflict. To make matters worse, the character reversals and betrayals are far too easy to predict. The film also isn't smart in its handling of its one notable element. That's when the villain announces on TV that he'll pay $100 million to anyone who can spring him.

Beyond the logistical improbabilities of such an offer (would you accept a check from him?) penned by screenwriters David Ayer ("Dark Blue," "Training Day") and David McKenna ("Blow," "Get Carter"), the film offers some ludicrous and far too convenient developments.

That's in place of having fun with the briefly touched upon notion that some or maybe even all of the S.W.A.T. team could turn sides for that much cash. Since we know that the main principals are too good for that, such a nebulous quality is wasted.

As is much of the cast. While Colin Farrell ("Daredevil," "The Recruit") is magnetic to watch as always and Samuel L. Jackson ("Basic," "XXX") gets some funny lines - while going through the motions - they're hampered by a lackluster script. The same holds true for LL Cool J ("Deliver Us From Eva," "Rollerball"), Brian Van Holt ("Basic," "Confidence"), Josh Charles ("Dead Poets Society," "Threesome") and especially Michelle Rodriguez ("Blue Crush," "Girlfight") who continues to play the exact same sort of tough-girl persona.

Larry Poindexter ("Thy Neighbor's Wife," "Intrepid") is appropriately flat as the one-dimensional cop boss, Jeremy Renner ("Dahmer," "Monkey Love") is the same as a hot-tempered former partner, and Martinez isn't given enough time to do much beyond delivering a few funny one-liners.

As the end credits rolled, I thought to myself that I'd seen far better but also far worse than what this film had to offer. Unfortunately, I also felt like I'd seen this sort of story far too many times before. Coupled with a progressively worsening script and a horrible ending, that means that all involved with this film need a good "S.W.A.T." to the nose with a rolled-up newspaper to keep them and others from doing this again. The film rates as a 4.5 out of 10.

Reviewed August 4, 2003 / Posted August 8, 2003

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