The particular breed of viewer who thinks it's impossible for cop dramas to have too many automatic weapons going off and armored officers breaking down doors will naturally have a soft spot in his or her heart for S.W.A.T., the not-exactly-classic 1975-76 TV series that made urban assault hip for the Disco Age. OK, the black-helmeted look the heroes sported may have seemed a tad fascistic at times, but somebody had to take out the scum who were forever plaguing L.A. with hostage situations and the like. And what other show could boast an actual sniper in its character ensemble? Years later, the old testosterone still flows at the mere hint of the series' danceable theme song.
Now, as Hollywood works its way through the thinning possibilities for jump-starting old properties as potential franchises, we get feature film versions of Dan "Hondo" Harrelson and his elite Special Weapons and Tactics unit cowboys. While it's hard to believe many moviegoers will have incredibly high expectations for a B-movie shoot-'em-up of this sort, S.W.A.T. does have one huge advantage going for it: This is one concept even studio filmmakers can't really dumb down. As a result, the flick generates a modest amount of fun in its simple, lunkheaded way especially in its relatively restrained and believable first half. After that, even such watchable stars as Samuel L. Jackson and Colin Farrell find themselves shooting blanks as both the action and drama grow increasingly absurd.
While the veteran bad-movie survivor Jackson half-seriously presides over things as team leader Hondo (Steve Forrest's character in the original series), the new S.W.A.T.'s real protagonist is Farrell's second banana Jim Street (played in the series by a young Robert Urich). Kicked off S.W.A.T. after his partner (Jeremy Renner from DAHMER) makes a bad call during what else? a hostage situation, Street is licking his chops when the legendary Hondo is brought back to his division to organize a brand-new S.W.A.T. team. The closest the picture gets to juicy character interplay is when Hondo teasingly recruits Street to drive him around town as he collects his new squad members a couple of experienced S.W.A.T. hotshots (Brian Van Holt, Josh Charles), a South Central patrol cop (rapper-turned-actor LL Cool J) and, this being a new millennium, a female officer (THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS' Michelle Rodriguez) eager to prove she can hold her own with the boys. Of course, Street is finally added to the unit, quickly emerging as the most brilliant tactical thinker since Napoleon.
And not to go all S.W.A.T. geek out on you or anything, but how in the heck can somebody in the movie be watching the old series on the tube when the movie and series share many of the same characters? Yeah, we get the in-joke, but couldn't the filmmakers have a little respect for the reality of what's happening on-screen?
The most effective weapon in S.W.A.T.'s arsenal is the well-chosen cast especially the commanding Farrell, who seems destined to be one of the biggest stars out there if he can start picking better projects. Other stand-outs include Rodriguez, who sells the female S.W.A.T. member concept wholly on the strength of her screen presence, and Martinez, who likewise has nothing but his looks and charm to interest us in one of the most laid-back, passive villains in screen history.
Director Clark Johnson, who starred on HOMICIDE: LIFE ON THE STREETS before moving behind the camera, serves up some reasonably clear, punchy action in his feature helming debut though there's only so much that can be done with the routine way the set pieces fit into the story. More of a problem is the clunky dialogue, particularly the script's uneven attempts at wit. A few more memorable one-liners would have gone a long way toward making the proceedings more bearable.
Just a little something to think about for anybody out there who might be working on, say, a T.J. HOOKER film.