Sony // 2003 // 117 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // January 12th, 2004
Even cops dial 911.
Once again we come to that old standby in Hollywood history: take an old TV show and make it new again. Although S.W.A.T. may be a bit less conspicuous than something along the lines of The Beverly Hillbillies, make no mistake: this is still a movie about a TV show. S.W.A.T. was a hit in theaters during its initial run in the summer of 2003 and now rears its ass-kicking head on DVD care of Columbia Home Entertainment.
When you need help, you call the cops. But who do the cops call when they're knee deep in trouble?
The S.W.A.T. team, baby.
The "Special Weapons and Tactics" unit of the Los Angeles Police Department isn't afraid to get its hands dirty when it comes to taking down criminals. Just ask Jim Street (Colin Farrell, Phone Booth), a good cop and veteran of the department who's been demoted for breaking a direct order while in the line of fire, even if it did save a life. Jim has been having a rough few months -- first he has a falling out with his partner, Gamble (Jeremy Renner, Dahmer), because of the direct order violation, then he's left in "the cage," a work station where cops drop off their weapons for cleaning and maintenance. But that's all about to change when one of the department's captains brings in an old school vet, Sgt. Dan "Hondo" Harrelson (Samuel L. Jackson, Pulp Fiction). Hondo's job is to put together a successful S.W.A.T. team, which includes the rough and tumble Chris Sanchez (Michelle Rodriguez, Resident Evil), David "Deke" Kay (rapper LL Cool J, Deep Blue Sea), Boxer (Brian Von Holt, Basic), pretty boy McCabe (Josh Charles, Threesome), and, finally, Jim Street.
The team works great together as they move through training and field tests for hardnosed Captain Fuller (Larry Poindexter, TV's JAG). When an international terrorist, Montel (Olivier Martinez, Unfaithful), is caught and captured by the LAPD (on a minor traffic violation, no less), the S.W.A.T. team's skills are put to the test when Montel announces on national television that he'll pay anyone $100 million dollars to break him out of prison. With scumbags of every nature crawling out of the woodwork vying for the prize money, Hondo, Jim, and their teammates will need every resource to keep Montel in custody and stay alive.
You know, I didn't realize S.W.A.T. was based on an old 1970s TV show until I watched the movie. Call me ignorant; call me naïve -- that seems to be an information nugget I would have thought I'd known, but apparently not. The S.W.A.T. TV series starred Steve Forrest (Spies Like Us, Amazon Women on the Moon) in the Sam Jackson role, and while I've never seen the series, I can't imagine it was even half as exciting as this movie turned out.
Nothing goes down better than a good old-fashioned cop movie. S.W.A.T. is just that: a movie about cops busting in doors, stomping out the bad guys, and exchanging heated gunfire while cursing a lot. Yet S.W.A.T. is also a little more than that; here's a movie that doesn't require huge stretches in plausibility or reality. Many of the scenarios the S.W.A.T. team find themselves in are realistic and grounded in reality (well, at least that's how they seemed to me, limited police knowledge and all). I especially enjoyed watching the training sections and how the S.W.A.T. team worked on their tactical movies.
And then we move into the second half of the movie, which is packed with car chases, explosions, Learjets landing on bridges, and good old-fashioned fisticuffs. How can you complain about that? I liked the way S.W.A.T. didn't condescend to the audience, yet the actors were still able to have a lot of fun in that classic buddy-cop way. Jackson and Farrell are especially good as they exchange witty banter while riding around in their car. Of course, no one can play cool like Jackson -- his presence in the film automatically kicks up the fun factor a few notches. He doesn't really stretch as an actor much in the role of Hondo, but that's okay -- at the very least we get Sam Jackson doing what he does best: acting like one bad @$$ motherf#&$@*r. Farrell is also very good as Jim Street, a man who knows when to enforce the rules and when to break them. The Irish born actor is able to play an American convincingly without any major flaws. I became a fan of Farrell's after watching his gutsy performance in director Joel Schumacher's better-than-you'd-expect thriller Phone Booth. Here he makes a good foil for Jackson's zingers. Also of note is tough talking Michelle Rodriguez as Sanchez, a woman who'd kiss you one minute and rip out your spleen the next, and LL Cool J as Deke, another actor who, with every consecutive performance, becomes more likable.
Clark Johnson directed S.W.A.T., his first feature film. His TV credits include NYPD Blue, The Wire, and The Shield, so you know he's got some inside knowledge on this whole police thing. Johnson stages great actions sequences that utilize both normal film cameras as well as some handheld shots. This makes for a much more realistic film and story. I can't say that with S.W.A.T. Johnson has reinvented the action flick. What he has done is produce a tense, fun, explosive movie that is well worth your time. And that certainly counts for something.
S.W.A.T. is presented in 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen. Columbia has once again pulled through with an excellent looking transfer. Aside of the slightest amount of edge enhancement in a few scenes, this is a very crisp, attractive transfer. The colors are all bright and well rendered without any bleeding in the image. The black levels all appear to be in excellent shape without any graying. Fans of the film will most certainly be happy with the way this picture looks. Also available is a hacked pan and scan version of the film, though it's not recommended.
The soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround in English and French. Ooo la-la! What a fine sound mix this turned out to be. If you're looking for a 5.1 mix that features aggressive bass and a ton of directional effects and surround sounds, you've come to the right place. S.W.A.T. features a lot of areas where all of the speakers are engaged, especially during the final shoot out. This excellent sound mix should make any home theater owner happy. Also included in this disc are French and English subtitles.
Fans of S.W.A.T. will be happy to see that Columbia has included some well-produced supplemental materials on this DVD. Starting off the disc are no less than two commentary tracks. The first commentary track is by actors Josh Charles, Samuel L. Jackson, Brian Van Holt, Michelle Rodriquez, Jeremy Renner, and LL Cool J, as well as Clark Johnson (who was recorded at a separate session, then edited into the track). The second track is by screenwriters David McKenna and David Ayer, and writers Ron Mita and Jim McClain. The first track is a tad goofier than you'd expect; the key actors all tend to rib each other and aren't quite as insightful as director Clark (whose somber tone can sometimes be slightly flaccid). The second track offers viewers far more in the way of story and character -- the writers discuss many aspects of the story and themes in the film. These are decent commentaries, but not great.
Next up are five featurettes on the making of the film:
"Anatomy of a Shootout" -- This feature takes a look at the opening shootout sequence that eerily resembles a similar incident that took place in Los Angeles when two armored, heavily armed men created havoc during a robbery.
"S.W.A.T.: TV's Original Super Cops" -- This is a brief look at the original '70s S.W.A.T. TV series that inspired the film. It's also sort of a short promo for the series, since Columbia has just released it in a DVD box set. Included in this featurette are interviews with the stars from the new film, as well as series regular Steve Forrest (who has a very small cameo role at the end of the film).
"Making S.W.A.T." -- This is a nice 21-minute making-of that should give viewers insight into the film's conception and production. Various interviews are included with the principal actors like Samuel L. Jackson, as well as interviews with director Clark, producer Neal H. Moritz (The Fast and the Furious), and others.
"6th Street Bridge: Achieving the Impossible" -- A nice look at how the special effects team achieved the nearly impossible task of having a Learjet land on a bridge during the climax of the movie. Lots of special effects/CGI info is provided, as well as footage from the creation of the sequence.
"The Sounds of S.W.A.T." -- The feature is broken up into two categories. In one, you can take a look at the various weapons used in the film, including a demo and some history on certain guns. The second allows the viewer to watch four different scenes with four audio tracks, each one containing specific sounds on each track. Surprisingly, this is the most entertaining supplement on the disc.
Finally there is a rather humorous gag reel, eight deleted scenes that give the viewer an idea of what was left on the cutting room floor, filmographies for the four major players in the film, and trailers for the vampire/werewolf flick Underworld, Tim Burton's Big Fish, Cuba Gooding, Jr.'s Radio, the action sequel Once Upon a Time in Mexico, the Will Smith / Martin Lawrence vehicle Bad Boys II, and some Columbia TV action favorites.
Sam Jackson in sunglasses. Lots of swirling helicopters over Los Angeles. More gunfire than the O.K. Corral shootout. What's not to love? If you're a fan of all those "World's Most Deadly / Daring / Exciting / Wacky / Impulsive / Monumental / Deranged / Disasterous Police Chase" TV shows, you'll absolutely love S.W.A.T.. Columbia's work on this disc is uniformly excellent.
S.W.A.T. is free to keep the peace. Case dismissed!
Review content copyright © 2004 Patrick Naugle; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 2.40:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
Running Time: 117 Minutes
Release Year: 2003
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Two Commentary Taracks
* Five Featurettes
* Theatrical Trailers
* Gag Reel
* Deleted Scenes
* Official Site