Sony // 2003 // 117 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Mitchell Hattaway (Retired) // December 7th, 2004
You're either S.W.A.T. or you're not.
S.W.A.T. was originally released on DVD back in December of 2003. Given the nature of this film -- big, dumb action flick -- it was only a matter of time before the powers-that-be at Sony decided to add this title to their Superbit line. Fast forward ten months, and here it is.
The plot of S.W.A.T. revolves around the efforts of Sgt. Hondo Harrelson (Samuel L. Jackson, Patriot Games) to turn a group of stock characters into a well-oiled crime-fighting machine. Jim Street (Colin Farrell, Minority Report) is the guy who gets demoted because he won't rat on his partner. Chris Sanchez (Michelle Rodriguez, Blue Crush) is the tough chick/single mom with the cute daughter waiting back home. Deke Kay (LL Cool Jay, Deep Blue Sea) is the young, loving father with a gaggle of kids. Michael Boxer (Brian Van Holt, Black Hawk Down) is the somewhat older, loving father with a gaggle of kids and a nagging wife. T.J. McCabe (Josh Charles, Muppets from Space) is the team's resident marksman (at least for the first half of the film). The team has barely had time to come together before they find themselves having to contend with Alex Montel (Olivier Martinez, Taking Lives), a slimy French terrorist. Montel has offered 100 million dollars, or, as Martinez puts it, "One 'undred meeelllion dollaarrrs," to anyone who frees him from incarceration. Next thing you know, every two-bit crook in L.A. is looking to cash in on the offer.
For what it's worth, I found the first half of S.W.A.T. entertaining. The performances are good, although it does take Farrell a while to get a grip on his accent; Clark Johnson, a veteran television actor/director making his feature directing debut (he also appears as LL's partner early on in the picture), moves things along at a nice, rapid clip, and handles the action with a (for the most part) steady, assured hand. Things start falling apart, however, in the second half, as the team hunts down the escaped Montel and his compatriots. The decoy police motorcade is a nice idea, but the subsequent attack on said motorcade comes off as preposterous. (Are the guys firing rocket launchers from the high-rise working with the AK-47-wielding guys in the semi?) The bad guys' escape plan seems a little too elaborate for something apparently cooked up in about twelve hours, and I'm not really sure I buy the claymores in the subway tunnel and the Lear jet landing on a bridge. Okay, so maybe a Lear jet could land on a bridge, but could it take off from a bridge? (I don't blame my unwillingness to go along with the events of the latter half of the film on Johnson; I blame it on co-screenwriter David Ayer. Here's a guy whose scripts -- most notably Training Day and Dark Blue -- always seem to fall apart in the second hour.) I also think the film could have benefited from less shirtless Ladies Love Cool James and more shirtless Michelle Rodriguez, but I could never totally dislike any movie featuring cameos by Bridget the Midget and Bishop Don "Magic" Juan.
The transfer contained on this Superbit disc improves on the original release's transfer, but the improvements are marginal. (I'd rank it with the minor fixes represented on the Superbit release of Underworld, as opposed to the major fixes represented on the Superbit editions of The Fifth Element and Lawrence of Arabia.) The video on the original release was outstanding, while the Superbit's transfer is near-perfect; the only thing keeping it from perfection is some obtrusive grain in the background of one very dark shot. Colors are bold, and blacks are incredibly deep. Johnson and his cinematographer, Gabriel Beristain, opted for a stylized, "hot" look for the film, and the video conveys this swimmingly. The audio, on the other hand, is perfect. It's so good, in fact, you'll be able to identify instances in which the dialogue was changed to help bring the film's rating down to PG-13. Whether you opt for the Dolby or DTS tracks, you'll be pulled into the action almost immediately. In the opening scene, as well as in a handful of scenes later in the film, the sound is initially isolated in the center channel and then blooms into the remaining channels as the scene progresses. The nearly constant surround activity contains plenty of whizzing bullets, ricochets, car crashes, exploding flashbangs, and helicopter flyovers; there's also an abundance of heavy bass. (Oddly enough, I think my favorite moment audio-wise from this loud, noisy film is the scene in which the S.W.A.T. members sit in an empty pool; the sounds of echoing voices and a bouncing tennis ball somehow manage to demonstrate the audio's strengths more than the action scenes.) Both tracks are amazing, but the DTS emerges as the winner, as it contains a slightly more immersive soundfield and tighter bass. As this is a standard Superbit release, none of the supplements from the original disc have been carried over to this edition, though there are so many subtitle options you could probably learn a few new languages.
This disc is a great technical achievement, but the film itself is a bit lacking. I think Superbit fans, or anyone looking for some new demo material, will be pleased with this release; as for anyone wondering if it's worth upgrading from the original release -- it's not.
Court is adjourned.
Review content copyright © 2004 Mitchell Hattaway; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 2.40:1 Anamorphic
* DTS 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 117 Minutes
Release Year: 2003
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Official Site