Starring Samuel L. Jackson, Colin Farrell, Michelle Rodriguez, LL Cool J and Olivier Martinez. Directed by Clark Johnson. Written by David Ayerand David McKenna. Produced by Neal H. Moritz, Dan Halsted and Chris Lee. A Columbia release. Action. Rated PG-13 for violence, language and sexual references. Running time: 117 min.
Like "I Spy," another TV show updated for the bigscreen by Columbia, "S.W.A.T." has little to do with its short-lived source material other than shared character names and a remix of the theme song on the soundtrack. Rather, it's a summer popcorn actioner that strictly follows procedure: It opens hard, with bullets whizzing among an outgunned police force, and stays loud--glass shatters, cars smash, helicopters crash. A good cop, Jim Street (Colin Farrell), wrongly demoted, and a ragtag team with one last chance to prove themselves are assembled by rogue lieutenant "Hondo" (Samuel L. Jackson), who has been recruited to boost the reputation of the department but has his own run-ins with the stuffy captain. As we get to know them--their personality quirks, their special skills (LL Cool J plays a beat cop particularly adept at foot chases; Michelle Rodriguez is in traffic and beats up men twice her size), their internal strife--we come to care about these characters. Or we're meant to.
The truth is, the formula is tired. Yes, the action is high-octane, and there's a cool factor at work in the slow-motion effects, dramatic camera movements and training montage that culminates in a game of cards played by sharp-shooting at a deck poised on a hillside hundreds of yards away. And, yes, it's at times funny, especially in the exchanges between the sardonic Farrell and Jackson (about the rifle Street just cleaned for Hondo: "If you want me to show you how to shoot it, I'm here all week nine to five."), though at other times unintentionally so ("I may work in the mud, but I like to play up in the clouds." Okaaay).
But the character development--what would really make us care about this film--is lacking. There's an attempt to show that these are men and women with families, with lives outside of the force. But the sentiment is too little to be effective: It's not explicitly clear why Farrell's character makes such a good S.W.A.T. team member and leader. Olivier Martinez, who plays the bad guy, displayed a subtlety in "Unfaithful" that is undermined here; instead, he comes off as a caricature of an international criminal mastermind. The exception is Jeremy Renner, whose Elijah Wood-esque sweet good looks belie a steely reserve and a bold taste in projects, such as his previous starring role in "Dahmer." In an unremarkable film, Renner is a real find.-Annlee Ellingson