Friday, April 4, 2008

Swat review

S.W.A.T. is the type of movie that can be either side of the same coin, so your enjoyment of it will greatly depend on your expectations going in. The trailer might have you thinking that it's another no-brain action film with stunts and explosions galore. Yes, it is that, but to limit it there would be doing a great disservice to it. It's an offbeat action flick, semi-comedic in its own natural fashion, borrowing elements from police dramas and comedies liberally, mixing the elements together and making its own unique flavor. Call it Dirty Harry meets Death Wish meets Police Academy meets Lethal Weapon. Call it anything but a remake of the hit television show of the 1970s.

The film starts off with Colin Farrell (Daredevil, The Recruit) playing hotshot SWAT member Jim Street, reduced to gun room duty after not following procedures during the takedown of a bank job. Street gets a break to be back on the unit when a new sergeant (Jackson, Basic) is brought in to retool the team, with the team captain (Poindexter, American Ninja 2) seemingly wanting them to fail so he can fire both of them. Meanwhile, billionaire French crime lord, Alex Montel (Martinez, Taking Lives), gets nabbed by the local police, and sends a message through the media offering $100 million to anyone who breaks him out of prison. With a mostly new crew and little support from the boss, the SWAT team finds their hands are more than full in trying to deliver Montel into federal custody with the criminal element coming out of the woodworks to claim that money.

SWAT is a bit of a throwback film, roughly similar to the kinds of team police flicks where the unit comically bickers with each other, yet always maintain some respect for each other underneath. For most of the movie, the story remains almost plotless, while we are introduced to the characters and see them perform in training exercises to prepare them for the worst. For much of the first hour, SWAT plays for laughs, while also getting into character development of the main characters, like an ensemble television show full of eccentric and entertaining people. TV show familiarity is no surprise, since director Clark Johnson's previous work has all been in television, both as an actor and a director in such shows as "Homicide," "NYPD Blue", "Law & Order", and HBO's "The Wire".

The halfway point of the film will probably be the dividing line for most viewers, as you'll have to suspend lots of disbelief in the developments that occur after Montel makes his pledge of millions for his escape. A few necessary shortcuts are taken, and a couple of serious contrivances, but if you're willing to play along for sheer entertainment's sake, it does work quite well in its own fashion. The maverick attitude of Street will remind you of Mel Gibson as Sgt. Riggs, especially in a final confrontation that seems lifted straight out of the end of the original Lethal Weapon. The rest of the unit has that "A-Team" quality, giving us some comic relief amid the tensest of moments, making this one of the truly fun films of the summer.

If you like smart and funny action vehicles, especially ones that like to have fun with the conventions of their genre (much like The Italian Job did so well earlier in the year), SWAT is highly recommended for some highly entertaining escapism. It's bravura entertainment, testosterone-charged excitement that doesn't give a damn whether it's paced right or all of the loose ends are tied up. Some needless characters and offbeat storyline asides are thrown in liberally, but those moments are also the most enjoyable.

SWAT is a gloriously sloppy movie, like eating a huge, greasy cheeseburger stuffed to overflowing with onions, pickles and bacon. It ain't pretty or even remotely healthy, but like Samuel L. Jackson might say, "Now that is one tasty burger!"

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