Cop movies set in Los Angeles seem to be everywhere this year, from lighter yarn like "National Security" and "Hollywood Homicide," to more serious fare like "Dark Blue" and "A Man Apart." The lastest in this L.A. cop genre, S.W.A.T. a remake of the short-lived 70s TV show seems to go back and forth from zinging one-liners to zinging bullets in this effective, entertaining movie.
S.W.A.T. opens up right away in the line of fire, with a stand-off at a, presumably, bank robbery gone wrong. When S.W.A.T. officers Jim Street (Farrell) and Brian Gamble (Renner) disobey an order, they're kicked off S.W.A.T. and Gamble leaves the force, thinking Street dropped a dime on his partner. But when Lt. Dan "Hondo" Harrelson (Jackson) is re-assigned to form a new S.W.A.T team, Street gets a second chance and he and his new team have to prove their worthiness to their skeptical captain (Larry Poindexter) by collaring a French criminal kingpin Alex Montel (Oliver Martinez). But things get even more interesting when Montel offers a reward of "a hunred meelion dollars" for anyone who helps him escape the long arm of the law.In a summer full of excessively long movies, it's a welcome surprise to see a movie like S.W.A.T. that is so crisply paced. Its near-perfect runtime of 1 hour 51 minutes is meticulously filled with a solid beginning, middle and end.
We get some nice character development at the beginnning which leads into the main conflict with Montel towards the middle and some nice twists thrown in towards the end. The end, though, is the most important part because the filmmakers here knew when enough was enough, ending the movie where others might take the opportunity to stretch it out into another bullet-fest. It's a near-perfect example of the "three-act structure" of filmmaking that Hollywood has followed for years, only to be practically thrown out this summer. The first act may be a tad too long because it takes a little too long to get to the meat of the story with Montel, but the structure is still done better than almost every other movie I've seen this summer.
There is some very nice acting here from the boys and girl of S.W.A.T. Colin Farrell turns in another great, subtle performance as Street, Jackson is dead-on as the cocky Hondo and Rodriguez has that gritty, tough-girl look and performance down to a T... probably because she plays that role in every one of her movies. I was incredibly pleased to see Josh Charles in this movie, playing T.J. McCabe. He starred in one of my favorite TV shows of all time, "Sports Night" and he hasn't been in much since then. But he gives a wonderfull supporting performance as the subdued-yet-cocky McCabe. Oliver Martinez turns in another solid performance as bad guy Montel. But his role as the bad guy who plays coy on the outside has been overdone a lot. And the fact that he was French kept me thinking of "Money Talks." I was waiting for Chris Tucker to jump out of nowhere, slap him, and call him "Frenchy." But, these are minor transgressions and don't take a whole lot away from the movie.
There are some nice, inventive action scenes, including one with a neat new toy that Street called "The Key to the City" which is, essentially, to walls what a bolt-ripper is to bolts. There is a certain cleverness to these scenes which make them even more fun to watch.The script, co-written by David Ayer and David McKenna, while gloriously paced, is riddled with some incredibly corny dialogue. It seemed as if Ayer ("Training Day") and McKenna ("American History X") were trying a foray into comedy, something their credentials don't come close to backing up. They stockpile their script with a few one-liners that work, but many many more that don't which makes for some awkward, silent moments. There are also a couple of sub-plots that don't really go anywhere and seem like a minor waste of time. Ayer and McKenna are great at structure, and both masters of endings that are both happy and tragic at the same time. The tragic part is lessened quite a bit in S.W.A.T., compared to their past films, but it's still there. But they both wrote a great script that could've used less, or even better, one-liners.
Director Clark Johnson, making his feature-film debut, is a great fit for this movie. Johnson has directed episodes of several TV shows including "The West Wing" and he directed the pilot episode for my new favorite show on TV, "The Shield." Who better to direct a remake of a TV show than a TV director, right? Absolutely. This movie definitely has the feel of a TV show, which I think works here. He usses a full array of camera angles and he uses the soundtrack (including a remix of the enormously catchy original TV show theme) wonderfully to his advantage, like many TV shows. He also uses some swift editing and action scenes to offset the slower, calculating nature of the script, and he does it very effectively.S.W.A.T. is a movie that shatters the predictable mold of the "buddy-cop" genre by showing how you don't have to be buddies to stop the bad guys, you just have to be on the same team.
The film has some minor problems, but they are totally eclipsed by its storytelling, structure and acting. It's a highly entertaining, refreshing dip in a summer swimming pool of movies that drown you with excess and only want to make you come up for air.