No one will ever know what possessed Columbia to remake the original S.W.A.T. TV series—a dreary network cop show that lasted a mere two seasons and was distinguished only by black flak jackets and a disco-hit theme song. Nor should we care: The new movie, directed by episodic-TV journeyman Clark Johnson, is a rigmarole of stranded clichés and thrill-free action-movie legerdemain. The sense of studio-executive patronization is sharper than usual: No effort has been made to update this dog-eared material (the weapons and tactics—automatic rifles, Kevlar, rappels—are none too special), to ramp up the paint-by-numbers cast dynamic (iconoclast hotshots vs. spiteful desk-jockey boss), or even to fashion a sensible story (the pre-plot “training” period, which entails running through empty houses and shooting on firing ranges, goes on for half the running time). Nothing gets more high-tech than a Claymore mine. A trace of digiware wouldn’t help S.W.A.T. be a movie, but it would at least indicate effort from somebody’s corner.
Colin Farrell stands center stage again as a wide-eyed rebel copaholic, preternaturally able to solve prickly dilemmas and wearing a righteous streak six yards wide. This is hardly a job for actors; out-of-work Verizon technicians should be called in, so Farrell can do Shakespeare in the Park. (It’s everybody’s plight: Poor Michelle Rodriguez is introduced as a vicious badass, and then never gets to prove it.) The dialogue is kept short and turkey-dumb for overseas dubbing, and the car-commercial post-prod strobe effect continually tries to muster gotcha excitement where there is none.
Certainly for most of the movie you could distract yourself with hypothetical bad-TV remake ideas (Christopher Walken as Longstreet!), but actually, S.W.A.T. has a small, barely utilized kernel of fascinating chaos at its center. Olivier Martinez sneaks through the movie as the homicidal, Interpol-hunted son of a hugely wealthy Euro-gangster family, and after he’s accidentally detained because of a broken taillight (Robert McKee, exult!), he declares to the news cameras that $100 million awaits whoever breaks him out. For just a few minutes, the film loses its mind, as Martinez’s perp caravan is beset by an apocalyptic army of gangbangers and grenade-launching mercenaries, right in midday Santa Monica. Here’s a scenario with socio-ethical teeth: What happens to the embittered and poor American majority when some jackal offers them nine figures for a little wholesale anarchy? Is there an army that could stop them?
If only we knew. A prototypical new-millennium summer movie, S.W.A.T. is no more than an extended trailer for itself. Oversell might be a sensible strategy, since the targeted demographic has no trace memories of the original show—which would hardly propel asses into seats in any case. But seriously, while we’re on it, why not Rupert Everett and Sandra Bullock as MacMillan and Wife? Matt Damon and Ben Affleck in Adam-12! Steve Zahn as Baretta! Eugene Levy as Columbo!
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on August 12, 2003