S.W.A.T. Review

Another day in Hollywood, another old TV series with a catchy theme tune gets plundered for movie material. Having worked through the big titles like the Charlie’s Angels and the Starsky and Hutchs, we’re now down to a fairly obscure and short-lived cop show from the seventies, in S.W.A.T.. This follows the Special Weapons and Tactics division of the Los Angeles Police Department, who act as their “Special Forces”, being called in for all the dangerous and complicated situations that arise.

After a siege situation that was resolved successfully except for the fact that a hostage was injured, two S.W.A.T. officers are blamed and demoted out of active duty. Jim Street (Colin Farrell) takes his punishment and is busted down to working in the gun cage; his partner Gamble (Jeremy Renner) quits the force. Street is to get his chance again though, when Sergeant Dan “Hondo” Harrelson (Samuel L Jackson) is brought back into the S.W.A.T. team to help improve the public perception of the force. He sets about building an elite team, and sees the potential of Street, along with bringing in new recruits “Deke” Kay (LL Cool J) and Chris Sanchez (Michelle Rodriguez). Meanwhile, international criminal Alex Montel (Olivier Martinez) is arrested by chance on the streets of LA. After publicly offering $100 million to anyone who can break him out of jail, it starts an open season with every bad guy in the city after their “reward”. Hondo and his team have to protect Montel from being liberated, not just from the usual collections of gangs and lowlifes, but also from some very professional adversaries.

The filmmakers should be applauded for making a summer action movie which is a little more grounded than many others. The action sequences are a bit more realistic than many over-the-top sequences that occur in so many films of the summer blockbuster genre these days; think Bad Boys. They have also attempted to flesh out the characters a bit more than the usual as well. Unfortunately, along with this they also decided to pull every cliché out of the bag. The pen pushing boss who wants them to fail, the obvious deception from the bad guys that fools everyone except our heroes, the even more obvious identity of a bad guy, it’s all in here. Visual clichés abound as well, such as the slow-motion helicopter blades when the S.W.A.T. team are descending into the action.

The other problem is the structure of the movie itself. Films that are clearly intended to be the first in a franchise have a problem; they need to introduce the characters and the setting and tell a story as well. Ironically, a television series can do this much easier, as it isn’t necessary to cram everything into one episode. But with a movie like this, there are only a couple of hours to do everything. Subsequently, the actual story beyond the character introductions is sidelined until the last quarter of the movie, and by that time it’s too late to give it any real substance.

Despite the amount of screen time spent in character development no one is particularly required to put in a big performance, and no one does, but then there are no bad performances either. The ubiquitous Colin Farrell currently resides in the same category as Bill Nighy in that it’s easier to list what films he’s not in at the moment; he’s fine as the guy who has to resurrect his career. For Samuel L Jackson it’s another role where he seems to have been brought in just for his usual “cool quota”. He badly needs another big part, another Pulp Fiction where he can demonstrate his acting skills rather than just being used as a cool commodity as he is so often. Rounding things out for the good guys are Michelle Rodriguez playing one of her usual mean, moody and miserable characters, and LL Cool J, bizarrely listed as “James Todd Smith aka LL Cool J”. As the principal bad guy, Olivier Martinez just doesn’t get enough to do to prove himself as a decent movie villain. As for him being French, given America’s climate especially as this film was released to cinemas, the screenwriters claim pure unintentional coincidence.

Making movies from old TV series isn’t necessarily a bad thing (though it is an incredibly lazy and safe way of doing business) and there have been a fair few successes, both critically and financially. This example is by no means a terrible movie, but its unbalanced structure and the use of way too many clichés prevent it from being a particularly good one either. Maybe a second film might be better, but this one’s just too much “by-the-numbers” filmmaking to be recommended.

The 2.35:1 anamorphic image is good without being outstanding. There are no major problems with the image detail and colours are natural, but perhaps it doesn’t quite stand out enough to warrant top marks.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 track is very good indeed, providing very involving sound effects and a lot of excellent use of all channels. One of the extra features on the disc highlights how the sound was designed and built and helps to show just how well put together this soundtrack is.

There are quite a few extras for a single disc set, and these include:

There are two commentaries; the first of these is a commentary featuring the director and cast. Director Clark Johnson was recorded separately and takes most of the time, with a fair few interesting things to say about the movie. Into the gaps he left has been edited in the cast commentary, featuring most of the main stars with the exception of Colin Farrell. Whereas the director’s comments were worth hearing, these guys just lark and joke about and have nothing interesting to add. They sound like they had fun recording it; it is doubtful you will derive the same enjoyment on the receiving end. The second track here is a screenwriters and technical consultant’s commentary. This is the more interesting of the two, as they talk about the whole process of screenwriting in Hollywood, how much actors want to change dialogue, and how Paul Walker had been considered for the Colin Farrell role, and Arnold Schwarzenegger for the Samuel L Jackson role.

The main featurette is The Making of S.W.A.T. clocking in at around 22 minutes. Although having the feel of the standard EPK, it’s long enough to be more informative and worthy than usual, getting into such things as the casting process and the training needed for the actors. As it’s more than just the usual “love-in” it is worth watching, though the usual spoiler alerts apply.

Anatomy of a Shootout looks at the opening sequence from the film, and we learn that it was based on a real event. The director and technical advisors discuss the challenges of bringing a sequence like this to the screen. There is information of interest here, but at only nine minutes it isn’t long enough to get into any real detail.

The seven minute S.W.A.T. – TV’s original super cops takes a look at the original TV series from which the film was derived. Interviews with some of the original stars and television critics look back at the show, and discuss specifically why it was cancelled after only one and a half seasons. This featurette is book-ended by plugs for the original series on DVD, which was fine on the region 1 version of this disc, but since it hasn’t been released in the regions this disc is intended for, surely CTHE aren’t encouraging us to buy discs from other regions?

There are eight deleted scenes or rather seven and one extended. Some of these are clearly unfinished, with green screens visible. No commentary is available to discuss why they were dropped, but there’s nothing particularly worth getting excited about here anyway.

The next featurette is 6th Street Bridge – Achieving the Improbable, showing how the landing of the Lear Jet on the bridge sequence was accomplished. Obviously much of this wasn’t done for real, so we have a demonstration of how the CG was composed, followed by actual props once the plane had landed.

Much more interesting is Sound and Fury – The Sounds of S.W.A.T.. It’s a fairly short but nonetheless fascinating look into how the sound effects of gunfire, gun loading, bullet hits and the like were all layered into the soundtrack. Using the full 5.1 tracks of the movie itself, a sequence from the shootout at the start of the film is explained in how the directional effects involve the viewer into the scene. The sound breakdown is also demonstrated in a sequence which allows you to switch soundtracks to hear various different layered effects. Also here is a run-through of the various weapons used by the S.W.A.T. team and others, demonstrated by the film’s armourer Mike Papac. All a bit Guns and Ammo

A three minute gag reel is here; we all know how so often these are just an unfunny collection of the actors showing off. No change here.

Some Filmographies are here, but of just four of the stars and of “selected” information, look on IMDB instead. The trailer is also here, presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic video and 5.1 sound.

Finally, there is an Easter Egg feature which leads to a spoof televised coverage of a golf tournament played by a couple of the stars, the director, and a lot of the crew. If you don’t manage to find it you’re not missing much…

DVD-ROM Content
There is no ROM content available on this disc.

Final Thoughts
S.W.A.T. had the potential to be a decent actioner, but its poor structure and the inclusion of just too many clichés in the storyline disappoint. The disc is technically decent, especially in the sound department, and there is a reasonable amount of extra material, especially for a single disc offering. Watchable, but not particularly recommended.

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