S.W.A.T. cast: Samuel L. Jackson, Colin Farrell, Michelle Rodriguez, LL Cool J, and Brian Van Holt director: Clark Johnson 112 minutes (12) 2003 widescreen ratio 2.40:1 Columbia Tristar DVD Region 2 retail RATING: 6/10 reviewed by Donald Morefield

Based on Aaron Spelling and Leonard Goldberg’s US TV action show, created by Robert Hamner during the mid-1970s (a spinoff from ABC’s more successful cop show, The Rookies, 1972-6), this mega-budget cop thriller recasts the original TV show’s five, white, L.A. police officers into a multi-ethnic squad. Not surprising, really, if we consider that debutant feature director, black actor Clark Johnson (a regular as Detective Meldrick Lewis, in TV drama Homicide: Life On The Street, 1993-9) seems drawn to race-related issues, at least judging from the several TV episodes he directed before getting his break into Hollywood’s big time.
S.W.A.T. is all about ‘super-cops’, and it tells of how a new L.A.P.D. ‘Special Weapons And Tactics’ unit is created, reworking the TV show’s setup for a post-11th September, anti-terrorism scenario. The veteran team leader Sergeant Dan ‘Hondo’ Harrelson (Steve Forrest in the TV show) is now played by our editor’s favourite black actor Samuel L. Jackson. Colin Farrell (Phone Booth, Daredevil) replaces TV star Robert Urich, as Jim Street.

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Of the other SWAT guys, marksman T.J. McCabe is here played by Josh Charles, David ‘Deke’ (nicknamed Deacon in the TV series) Kay is recast with another black actor, LL Cool J (alias James Todd Smith, getting a real-name screen credit here for the first time), while the TV role of Dominic Luca is totally rewritten, switching gender so that Latina action babe Michelle Rodriguez (Girlfight, The Fast And The Furious, and Resident Evil) can play hard-to-kill Officer Chris Sanchez.
In addition to the above five main characters, there’s one extra SWAT officer, Michael Boxer (Brian Van Holt) and, as usual, the police squad are perpetually in trouble with their superior, Captain Fuller (Larry Poindexter). Numerous generic stereotypes abound, and many familiar cops ‘n’ robbers movie clichés (including the disgraced cop who turns to crime; a wager on the outcome of gun practice on the target range; and that very tired gag of the tough ‘guy’ with a genderless first name who turns out to be female) are repeated here, too.
The film opens a quasi-documentary style, as a SWAT team deals with a gang of homicidal bank robbers. This sequence owes its chaotic energy to cop movies such as Michael Mann’s Heat. Much later in the film, a supposedly dramatic, but unfortunately predictable, attack by mercenaries upon a police convoy recalls the startling urban shootout – with RPGs fired at vehicles from buildings – in Patriot Games. In both cases, S.W.A.T. scenes’ rather obvious sources of inspiration are from better films than this one, a shallow imitation of far grittier, harder-edged and positively more exciting dramas.
All of today’s Hollywood movie cops need an archenemy to fight (to arrest and bring to justice rather than simply kill, nowadays), and Hondo’s team get French terrorist and super-crook, Alex Montel (Oliver Martinez). Happily, he’s already in police custody, but transporting him from LA to a federal prison is a big problem when Montel has used omnipresent TV news crews to broadcast his offer of $100 million to anyone who frees him – hence all the trouble that our elite SWAT team has in the second half of this film, when audacious mercenaries attempt Montel’s jailbreak to claim the irresistibly tempting reward money. A sniper shoots down a police helicopter, Hondo’s decoy plan does not work out as well as he hopes, and a hijacked Lear Jet lands (courtesy of top quality special effects) on the 6th Street Bridge. Can our highly trained heroes outthink and outwit their wily and ruthless adversary?
Although it’s been criticised for having a bland videogame plot and a fetishistic reverence for automatic weapons, Johnson’s S.W.A.T. is as likeable as any of the other popcorn movies of recent years that were also ‘remakes’ of old TV shows. Its stars do what they can to brighten up underwritten characters or cartoonish heroes, but if you can accept that actors like Jackson, Farrell and Rodriguez must accept such work as this simply to maintain their star profiles year after year, and (no doubt) keep their bank balances’ healthy, then perhaps its not too bad. I have certainly seen far worse B-movie actioners masquerading as blockbuster material and, I suspect, so have you.
The DVD has an anamorphic transfer (with Dolby digital 5.1 audio in English or Italian, plus subtitles in 16 languages including English for hard-of-hearing). Disc extras include three featurettes, looking at the making of this movie, a retro view of the original TV show, and Anatomy Of A Shootout covering key stunts in further detail. There are eight deleted scenes, commentary tracks from the cast and the director, a blooper reel, filmographies and a trailer. A standard package, but at least it’s all included on the rental DVD as well as the official retail release.