"Find hungry samurai" -Gisaku

S.W.A.T.

I must say that this summer's movie experiences have turned out much better than I feared (HyperionX998). Of course, with financial constraints and general ennui, I have seen far fewer films this season, but those I have ventured to have mostly been a pleasant surprise.

Moreover, the previews for the upcoming fall and winter films are much better than earlier in the year. That doesn't guarantee a good movie, but at least I'm more looking forward to seeing them. Maybe one of my Readers sent my #127 (Movies III: Coming Soon to a Theatre Near You) to the studio executives, and they got the word.

Whatever the reasons, I've been in a much better mood lately when seeing movies. Which brings me to S.W.A.T., the new action picture inspired by the '70s cop drama. The film is not going to win any Academy Awards, and doesn't really break a whole lot of ground cinematically or stylistically, but in a way that was almost a relief.

S.W.A.T. is directed by Clark Johnson, in his feature debut. Normally I'd be leery of a director with no experience tackling something this big, but Johnson is a veteran of TV drama. If you're into cop shows, you may remember him as Meldrick on Homicide: Life on the Street, and more recently Johnson has directed such heavyweights as NYPD Blue, Law & Order, The West Wing, and especially The Shield, which I think is the best show on Television.

If nothing else, watching S.W.A.T. should make you want to check out The Shield. But on its own, it's still a lot of fun. Here's the set-up and players:

Colin Ferrell (Hollywood's "IT" boy of the moment) stars as Jim Street, a disgraced S.W.A.T. officer (explained in the opening scene), relegated to cleaning guns and shining boots until he gets out of his Captain's shithouse, which looks to be the First of Never.

Samuel L. Jackson is "Hondo," an old-school S.W.A.T. cop brought back to the force to clean up the image of the LAPD after the high profile mess of the opening scene. Of course, he has bad blood with the Captain, and picks Ferrell to be on his new elite S.W.A.T. team.

There are other members, but they are almost a paint-by-numbers sort of thing (the cocky black family man, the tough chick, the brother of Ferrell's XGF, etc.). You can even tell who the potential problems are (although just in case you're dense I won't reveal the obvious here), but it doesn't really matter. That's because Johnson isn't interested in giving us a "top-that-surprise" type of movie that has become so prevalent lately.

Nor does he try to give us over-the-top action. The pacing, stunts, and interaction from the characters seems almost probable, or at least plausible. I appreciate the restraint. Johnson gives us a feel for the gritty world of police action; the sweaty chases down alleys, the helicopter patrols, and occasional horrific gun battles with criminals that seem to be armed as well or better than their police counterparts.

The actual plot doesn't get going until well over half way through the movie, after we've seen the training montages, the teamwork, and the team pulled into action. The actual big story is a-wait for it-French terrorist (played quite nicely by Oliver Martinez, who some of you may recognize from Unfaithful), who's pulled over because of a busted taillight.

After an attempted rescue attempt leaves several cops dead, the media picks up the story, and Martinez offers on camera 100 million dollars to anyone who can break him free. This gets every criminal organization in L. A. coming out of the woodwork, and sets up the final act.

If you've seen movies at all you won't really be all that surprised, but like I wrote, there is no real attempt to hide this, and for all I know, it may even be an homage to the '70s show, when plot devices were simpler. The joy here is watching a well-made piece of action, and the character interaction; what there is of it.

The stunts are well done, the action is choreographed well, and the big moments are exciting without being too unbelievable. Ferrell is great, Jackson can play the role in his sleep (and I mean that in a good way), and the rest of the cast does their job well. Johnson even throws in a camera trick that I can best describe as a strobe effect: he doesn't do it too often, but it' pretty cool in limited use.

So, will you like this movie? I went with some friends of mine, a couple in their 40s. The husband enjoyed it, and the wife tolerated it. That may be the way you feel too. If you're into this type of action, this is a fun movie, if nothing all that special. If you don't care for it that much, you won't be in total agony. The editing is swift, it's not too long, and there is some melodrama. But not all that much character drama, so don't be looking for The Negotiator or something like that.

Hopefully by now you all know my three-pronged rating system. My Skepticism Scale (0-10) would be a 5. They try pretty hard to get things at least quasi-realistic, but a couple of stunts go overboard. The genre of the movie is pure action, and I'd give S.W.A.T. a solid B in my Genre Grade. Finally, in my Pantheon Percentile I'd give S.W.A.T. a 60, meaning it's better than 3 out of ever 5 films out there. That's not that bad.

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