S.W.A.T. is a by-the-book history lesson on every cop movie made in the last fifteen years. It’s the “been there, done that” movie of the summer, and it’s also the worst. It may stand out because it’s not a sequel or based on a comic book, but that hardly makes it original. The only appeal about this is the simple plot. Samuel L. Jackson, looking bored and completely ditching his “bad motha” characteristics, plays Sgt. “Hondo” Harrelson, the leader of a Los Angeles S.W.A.T. (Special Weapons and Tactics) division, who puts together a new squad of recruits to transport an arrested drug kingpin (Olivier Martinez) into federal custody. When the kingpin offers $100 million to any one who sets him free, the plan goes awry and causes a series of downtown street wars. This may not be great as pretenses go, but it sure sounds good.
The team is made up of “it” Hollywood badasses. Colin Farrel plays hotshot rookie Jim Street (here, to Jackson, as he was to Al Pacino earlier this year in The Recruit). Michelle Rodriguez (whose trademark scowl is still tiresome) plays a single mother who can take out anyone even twice her size. And LL Cool J once again as the roughneck family man, exactly as in Halloween H20 and Rollerball. Even the characters seemed taken out of other movies. The “who’s who” team turns out to be the least of this film’s problems, as it takes nearly an hour to get to the story. S.W.A.T. wastes time on empty, soundtrack-happy exposition, and then segues from shootout to explosion to shootout without reason. The same scene is repeated: bad guys cause a panic, S.W.A.T. averts the panic, and then they do it all over again. There is never any reason to suspect that they cannot do the job.
The opening gave me the worst feeling of déjà vu, as Jim and his partner (Jeremy Renner) fail to follow the rules and accidentally shoot a hostage during a bank robbery and get kicked off the prestigious team. Fast-forward six months to see our hero down on his luck. He works a low-level job at S.W.A.T. in the “cage” (utlities basement) and his girlfriend has just left him. His life is now a picture so criminally familiar, we could run it by a police sketch artist.
It doesn’t end there, either. The villain is a ruthless drug kingpin with a heavy accent and a bad attitude (of course, one of his first scenes involves him slicing the throat of a traitor with glee). Has anyone in Hollywood ever considered that there are criminals other than foreign drug dealers? There is also a snotty suit of a police Captain (Larry Poindexter) who has it in for the newest team. Once the action starts up, it’s neither exciting nor nice to look at. At least Michael Bay gives his multi-million dollar actioners a good shine. Because much of the action takes place either in the dark or in the midst of a war, it is hard to see or tell what is going on. If you cannot follow the action, then you defeat the purpose of an action movie. Even the climax takes place on a railroad at night, with steam running rampant and trains going by left and right.
The only positive words I can muster up for S.W.A.T. is that it does live up to its sub-acronym title of being about special weapons and tactics. The heroes do use special weapons for combat, and as tedious as many sequences become, they do use special tactics to escape a situation or save lives. These tactics never make the film surprising or even clever, but at least we get an idea of what it means to be S.W.A.T. by seeing how they operate. Yet with the endless destruction, S.W.A.T. is like a hit and run accident—someone forgot to care.