Movies from the Black Lagoon: S.W.A.T.

Movies from the Black Lagoon
By Tom Doty
S.W.A.T. - 2003, Rated PG-13

Police drama meets "Magnificent Seven " styled action in this remake of the classic ABC series that focused on the special weapons and tactics squad of the Los Angeles Police Department.
This one starts off with a bang, actually several of them, as armored thieves shoot it out with the L.A.P.D. while trying to flee a bank heist. Two robbers make a break for their getaway vehicle and are gunned down while two other thieves wisely opt to stay in the bank and announce that they have hostages. Meanwhile two members of the S.W.A.T. team (Gamble and Street) are able to sneak into the building. They opt to ignore their radios, which are broadcasting a "hold your fire" message, and take down the two suspects. Gamble lives up to his name and shoots through a hostage to nail his target.
The men are brought before their irate Captain who informs them that they are off the unit and will have to work as equipment clerks. Gamble refuses to accept this banishment and resigns while Street takes the hit. Later the pair argues when Gamble assumes that Street sold him out to keep his job.
The incident has hurt the department's profile (and the L.A.P.D. sure knows that song by now) so the Captain brings in an old school S.W.A.T. leader, Hondo, to revamp the team. He goes right to work and enlists Street as his driver as he interviews several candidates. They include: Deke- a street cop who can run very fast; Sanchez-a feisty Latino whose tough guy reputation obscures the fact that she is actually a woman: and Buress-a squeaky-clean rookie that no one trusts because he's an upstanding, non-cursing, vegetarian. Suffice to say that Burres doesn't get the gig. Street gets reinstated alongside the new team members and we're off to the races with a training montage and the requisite team building scenes.
Meanwhile an arrogant French crime kingpin gets nailed for diving with a busted taillight. This turns out to be a good deal for justice as he had just come back from slashing his uncle's throat. Unfortunately the pres gets hold of his status as an international criminal and they began covering his every move and he finds that he likes the attention in a Brittany Spears sort of way. He takes advantage of the coverage to offer a 100 million dollar reward to whoever springs him. This offer turns L.A. into something resembling "Thunder dome." The stage is now set for our S.W.A.T. team to escort the French felon to a maximum security prison whilst an array of bad guys, with enough firepower to level Newark, New Jersey, make their move to collect the reward.
This exercise takes up the second half of the film but it's totally worth it, as things finally get moving. What ensues are a host of explosions, fistfights, betrayals, and all manner of mayhem on a budget that would have funded the original show for 15 additional seasons (it only ran for two).
This all works well enough due to smart direction from Clark Johnson. Mr. Johnson brings a lot of class to the proceedings, which he no doubt cultivated while working on TV's "Homicide" and "The Wire." Fans of those shows will see several familiar faces in the cast but where this film goes wrong are in its leading roles. Samuel L. Jackson is woefully underused as Hondo. He must play second fiddle to Colin Farrell, as Street, and it's a big mistake. Farrell is terrible here. His character is underwritten as well and an opportunity to have him grappling with ratting out his partner is totally botched. LL Cool J as Deke and Michelle Rodriguez as Sanchez outshine him. Both actors get to show off their hard earned physiques and they get the better lines. Even further down the cast you find some great work. Jeremy Renner (Dahmer) steals every scene he's in as the strutting Gamble. He makes the rivalry with Street work despite getting little back from Farrell. Josh Charles (Sports Night) also makes an impression as the team's hot dog. His final scene with Jackson is a corker that leaves him without a chance of ever getting into S.W.A.T. 2. Throw in a few cameos by members of the original cast (Steve Forrest has a blink and you'll miss it moment but he's still a S.W.A.T. leader) and you've got a fine homage to one of the better cop shows of the seventies.
Best Line: " You only roll in John Woo movies. Not in real life."

Tom Doty occasionally emerges from the Lagoon to check his e-mail and to read to children every Wednesday at 10:30am at Borders in Hagerstown. If you'd like to get a message to him, write to: dotyfox@myactv.net.