Wednesday, August 13, 2003

S.W.A.T.

Posted By on Wed, Aug 13, 2003 at 12:00 AM

TV shows can spawn stylishly clichéd movies like S.W.A.T., an action popcorn-muncher less inspired than derived from a mid-’70s, run-of-the-mill police series.

S.W.A.T. at least starts off with some promise. TV director Clark Johnson ("The Wire" and "Third Watch") cuts coarse and lined video monitor images into urban warfare shots of a high-firepower bank heist that hollowly echo Black Hawk Down with their adrenaline-jittery and grainy footage of the Los Angeles Police Department’s heavily armored and armed Special Weapons and Tactics squad as they rappel to the rescue from helicopters. Johnson could be setting the stage for something more than a standard actioner: There’s space between its lines for a message about our reality television-fed fascination with violence and our cities as war zones.

But the closest David Ayer (Dark Blue) and David McKenna’s (Blow) script comes to that potential is one of the lines from this flick’s bag of "clever" action quips. During a chase scene featuring a limo, a private jet and a bridge, S.W.A.T. leader Sgt. Dan "Hondo" Harrelson (Samuel L. Jackson) wisecracks, "Here’s where watching ‘The World’s Most Exciting Police Chases’ pays off." That’s not much of a payoff for Johnson’s opening imagery, which ends up seeming like little more than gratuitous style. Then, this is an action movie, a genre wherein gratuitously violent style and cliché are the status quo.

S.W.A.T., though, fails to completely commit to glamorous high-action (Sgt. Hondo even dismisses action master John Woo’s acrobatics). During the standard training sequence, director Johnson teases us with the muscle and boxing moves of team members Jim Street and Chris Sanchez (Colin Farrell and Michelle Rodriguez). But while Street gets to duke it out in a mano-a-mano endgame that at least ups the visual ante of Lethal Weapon, Sanchez just ends up as a single-mother take on Aliens’ hardcore Latina soldier, Vasquez.

Scriptwriters Ayer and McKenna play out the usual heroic-loose-cannons vs. tight-assed brass and international-bad-guy plot line of Lethal Weapon. But why just have an odd couple when you can have an odd squad? Besides Street’s ex-Navy SEAL lone wolf and Sanchez’s manhandling mom, there’s James Todd Smith (aka L.L. Cool J), the beefcake family man, and T.J. McCabe (Josh Charles), Street’s rival with ambitions for the champagne high life.

Since the "cowardly" French wouldn’t back us in Iraq, the foreign villain du jour is, of course, sociopathic Frenchman Alex Montel (Olivier Martinez) whom our all-American heroes simply call "the frog."

S.W.A.T. may have its rare thrills, but few of its big-screen tactics are actually special.

James Keith La Croix writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail letters@metrotimes.com.

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