What we have here is a model for the paint-by-numbers, perfectly generic, proudly soulless summer action flick. An original idea would die for lack of oxygen in S.W.A.T., which means it will probably do boffo business. In an era when movies have become television with better air-conditioning and concessions than you get at home, S.W.A.T. delivers what’s expected with TV-bred efficiency.
And why not. S.W.A.T. (for Special Weapons and Tactics) started on the tube in 1975, producing thirteen forgettable episodes now available for masochists on DVD. For the big-screen S.W.A.T., Clark Johnson, a TV actor (Homicide: Life on the Street) turned TV director (The Shield), has been hired to helm his first feature. Johnson does a swell job with his movie-star cast, headed by Colin Farrell and Samuel L. Jackson: He makes them seem like TV actors. If they had any juice before — Jackson defined juice in Pulp Fiction and Farrell oozed it in Phone Booth? — they only dribble it out now. Johnson doesn’t stop for the small moments that build character; he just moves things speedily along.
Farrell, the Irish actor and serial babe magnet, plays Jim Street, the stud king of S.W.A.T. That’s what comes with top billing. But Street is in deep doo-doo. His trigger-happy partner, Brian (Jeremy Renner, so good in Dahmer, so wasted here), acted recklessly in a hostage situation. So Brian is out, and Street is off the street, reduced to baby-sitting weapons in the gun cage.
Not for long, though. Enter Dan “Hondo” Harrelson, the old S.W.A.T. pro, played by Jackson, who has been recycling his cool-cat routine way too much lately in crap like Basic, Formula 51 and XXX. Just say no, Sam. Hondo is putting together the baaadest S.W.A.T. unit yet. He picks Street, mostly because the choice irritates the lame-ass captain (Larry Poindexter). White-breadish Boxer (Brian Van Holt) and McCabe (Josh Charles) are already on board. For ethnic seasoning, Hondo adds black dude Deke (LL Cool J) and Latina chick Sanchez (Michelle Rodriguez), a single mom with mucho ‘tude’. Rodriguez has a sneer that can wilt steel. Too bad she didn’t use it on the script, by David Ayer (Training Day) and David McKenna (American History X), who are both off their game. The feeble plot involves the S.W.A.T. unit’s efforts to get French baddie Alex Montel (Olivier Martinez) from one jail to another despite his offer on television (there’s that word again) to give “100 meeel-yon dollars” to anyone who can bust him out.
That’s when the nuts emerge and the S.W.A.T.-ers run amok in helmets and Kevlar vests looking interchangeably busy as they deal with explosions, car chases, a pretty cool landing of a Lear jet on a bridge and a Judas in their midst (watch out for the one with champagne tastes).
It’s all grinding formula, except for the stuff that shows the team members at play, hanging loose like they’ve had makeovers by the Fab Five from Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. There’s nothing fab about S.W.A.T. The whole thing evaporates while you’re watching it.