Aaron Spelling's old television show "S.W.A.T." is long gone, but the memory lingers long enough to make a whole new movie. And of the kill-kill-shoot-em-ups we've seen so far this summer, "S.W.A.T." is at least as good as any other. Directed by first-timer Clark Johnson, who in fact has many credits directing action television, and written by two experienced hands at action films, David Ayer and David McKenna, the film is actually far more enjoyable - and believable - than the other recent superhero-versus-crime films.
The story is serviceable enough: young Los Angeles S.W.A.T. team member Jim Street (Colin Farrell) is removed from the team after a bad encounter with his partner. Six months later, ex-S.W.A.T. team leader Hondo Harrelson (Samuel L. Jackson) is brought back to form a new team. He chooses five, including of course Jim. At the same time, as we say in show-biz, Alex Montel (Olivier Martinez), international criminal wanted in more countries than were in the Coalition of the Willing, arrives in Los Angeles and passes right through Customs, Immigration, and probably the mayor's office too, for all I know, without anyone the wiser. So much for Tom Ridge's vaunted agency.
He's come to spend one evening in town, meet with his uncle, and then leave the country. But naturally he's stopped by accident and taken into custody, where his true identity becomes known. At some point he announces to the waiting media that he will give $100 million to anyone who can free him. That offer is broadcast far and wide, and does indeed sound tempting to a lot of people.
Meanwhile, as we also say, the S.W.A.T. team has been practicing their skills and tactics until if I were you I would not come within a half mile of any of them. Now it will be $100 million versus the power of S.W.A.T. Who do you think will win?
Yes, the film is dopey, as in fact the entire genre is dopey, but it is a formula that we have all come to know. The trick is not to think up new conceits and structures, of which there are probably none; but to utilize the same old elements in interesting and compelling ways. And here "S.W.A.T." comes through very well. Marvelously shot by director of photography Gabriel Beristain and edited by Michael Tronick to a good hip-hop beat, the film has pace and visual interest, even when the script stretches things out beyond the normal tension-release point. Director Johnson has managed to hold Samuel L. Jackson back far enough that we never even once have to see and hear those old "Pulp Fiction" tropes and mannerisms. And Farrell, with his cute-boy looks and low-key voice does very well too. Rodriguez, who made her bones in "Girlfight," does her best work here since that debut film. Only Larry Poindexter, who runs the S.W.A.T. team program, badly, as Police Captain Thomas Fuller, is out of his depth here as an actor.
The film has plenty of action, from bank robberies to street fights to a plane landing on the 6th Street Bridge, and only one segment actually drags: a too-long sequence in the L.A. subway tunnel that leads to a storm sewer drainpipe. But once Johnson gets us past that, things pick right up and take off again. All in all, it's good summer fun.