It’s been far too long since I reviewed a mindless action flick. Like, it’s been at least a month, right?
I’ve seen S.W.A.T. at least a dozen times since it came out ten years ago. It remains one of my favorite silly, entertaining, no-thought-at-all-required action films.
There will be SPOILERS. I want to be upfront about this, in case you’re concerned that the bad guys might win or that our devastatingly attractive lead hero might perish. This review will answer these questions.
Colin Farrell doesn’t perish. Also, the bad guys don’t win.
Newly Captured French Bad Guy Alex Montel (Olivier Martinez) offers a hundred million dollars to anyone who can bust him out of police custody. Lots of people are eager for such money. Thankfully, Sergeant Hondo (Samuel L. Jackson) has just formed a new and ridiculously good looking SWAT team who’s been entrusted with the thankless job of transporting the prisoner.
1. I say their job is thankless, but really, the pity should go to the poor fuckers who showed up to work that day and realized they were on Decoy Duty. I mean, it’s one thing to die whilst guarding a flesh and blood prisoner; it’s quite something else to get shot six times whilst protecting an expressionless dummy from enemy capture. Supposedly, only one officer died during this massive decoy operation, which I’m calling serious bullshit on. When a semi slams into a sedan, the end result isn’t a couple of bruises. I’m sure that police cars are reinforced and whatnot, but come on. I’m sure people can survive that, but when two or three semis crash into two or three cop cars? I think we need to bump up our fatality rate, guys.
2. But this all happens later. Let’s start in the beginning prequel shit, shall we, when Bullseye and Hawkeye were partners.
Only in this movie, Bullseye — otherwise known as Jim Street (Colin Farrell) — is the good guy and Hawkeye — otherwise known as Brian Gamble (Jeremy Renner) — is the reckless and consequently evil guy. (Oh, we’ll get to that.) Gamble disobeys a direct order in a hostage situation and accidentally shoots an innocent woman, although to be fair to him, she doesn’t die and the bad guys are taken down. Still, people frown on disobeying orders and shooting civilians, so Gamble — who doesn’t help things with his big mouth — gets shitcanned, and his partner gets sent to rot in the gun cage. (Apparently, a fate worse than death.)
Street does have the opportunity to save his job if only he’ll turn on his partner and testify against him, but a man has to have a code and all, so he doesn’t. Nevertheless, rumors will circulate that he did sell Gamble out. Gamble will also accuse him of this because, really, as much as I like Jeremy Renner, his character is kind of an obnoxious whiner, at least in the first ten minutes.
Still, a few notes about all of this:
A. Did you notice how our reckless bad guy’s last name was Gamble? I bet you didn’t. It’s super subtle. I can only assume that Jim Street is so named because Jim Manly and Jim Kickass were taken.
B. The whole point of the first ten minutes is to set up two things: our hero’s conflict and our villain’s motivation. The hero’s conflict stuff is fine — people think less of him now; he has to prove himself, yada yada. Villain’s motivation, on the other hand . . . yeah, we need to talk about that.
Like I said before, Gamble’s kind of an obnoxious hothead. This cannot be denied. What he isn’t, however, is a cop-killing mercenary. Does he make bad judgement calls? Sure. Should he be responsible for saving lives? Probably not. But it’s quite a leap from accidentally shooting a civilian in the shoulder while trying to save her life to casually shooting down a police helicopter to score a shitload of cash.
Mind you, I’m not saying it couldn’t happen. People change over time — even six months time, I suppose. Gamble’s clearly bitter about his time on the force, and a hundred million dollars is a pretty big incentive. Just ask TJ. (Oh, TJ. We’ll get to him in a while.) I’m just saying that at the point where he storms out of the locker room, Gamble isn’t quite set up as the Big Bad he’s going to become. Cause, you know, reckless people can certainly do evil things, but reckless and evil themselves are not synonyms. If the hostage had died and Gamble had showed no remorse of any kind, well, I’d buy this villainous turn a little more. As is . . . yeah, I don’t think he’s quite the violent psychopath that S.W.A.T. clearly wants me to believe he is.
Although really, he should learn to choose his words better. “I saved a hostage from getting shot!” Er, no. You saved a hostage from getting killed. There’s a subtle difference, particularly when you’re the person who shot her.
3. Okay, moving on. Let’s see what Jim
Kickass Street has been up to after six months.
Well, he’s still working in the gun cage, which is apparently where all the likable yet totally schlubby cops work — providing Street some angst because, you know. Street is a Real Man! To prove this, he runs on the beach a lot, to the point where he actually vomits, which is not really something I needed to see. And don’t bullshit me about authenticity, people. Let’s not pretend this is some gritty action flick. One of the reasons I like S.W.A.T. so much is that it (usually) knows exactly what kind of movie it is: silly, ridiculous fun. Ix-nay on the vomit, okay?
Street also has some fifteen second BS subplot about his girlfriend dumping him. The actress has maybe four lines, and honestly? They’re not great lines — written or delivered. The only reason this half-assed bullshit is even necessary is because the girlfriend is also Boxer’s sister. Boxer (Brian Van Holt) is one of Street’s coworkers, and the tension between the two of them . . . well, it isn’t really that important to the plot of the film, but since it’s pretty much all Van Holt gets to work with, I’d hate to take it out. That being said, couldn’t we just make the animosity between the two of them job-related? Like, Boxer doesn’t trust our boy Street because he thinks Street sold Gamble out? Do we really need a girlfriend if she’s only going to get two minutes of screen time?
4. It occurs to me that maybe I’m bitching a lot about a movie that I supposedly enjoy. Snarking and enjoyment aren’t mutually exclusive for me — obviously — but it’s also true that S.W.A.T. doesn’t do much for me in the first fifteen minutes.
And then . . .
. . . we introduce Samuel L. Jackson. Obviously, this makes everything better.
I love Hondo. Hondo is awesome. I never saw the original television show, so I can’t exactly compare and contrast — although I can tell you that Original Hondo has a cameo in the film, as well as Original Deacon. Still, regardless of whatever Past Hondo was like, this Hondo is pretty awesome. He doesn’t chase after suspects on foot when it’s clearly faster to drive after them. He doesn’t roll when he shoots his gun because cops “only roll in John Woo movies.” (Although it’s worth pointing out that TJ, Street, and Boxer all roll.) And he gets all the best quips.
In fact, the only thing that’s not awesome about Hondo is that he apparently golfs on his day off . . . which is a character flaw that I’m, charitably, willing to forgive.
5. Speaking of golf, though: one of the DVD Easter eggs is a short video where Samuel L. Jackson and Michelle Rodriguez play in a S.W.A.T. cast and crew golf tournament. It is unexpectedly hilarious because there are two commentators — sadly anonymous — mocking them the entire time.
6. So, Hondo’s recruiting a brand new team on the Chief’s orders, much to the displeasure of Captain Fuller (Larry Poindexter). Fuller is the same asshole who fired Gamble and sent Street to the gun cage, and — shockingly — he’s not a big fan of Hondo, either. Hondo only manages to get the team he wants because he makes a deal with Fuller: the first time Hondo’s team screws up, Hondo and Street are off the job. Not just SWAT but off the police force entirely.
Again, I’m calling such bullshit. There’s no question Captain Fuller could fire Street. He already has a questionable history . . . but that he could fire Hondo? Hondo, super star veteran cop who was personally requested back to the job by the Chief of Police? Something tells me Hondo’s job isn’t really on the line here, movie, so stop trying to sell me stakes I’m not buying.
7. Before we meet Hondo’s Super SWAT team, let’s see who isn’t on it: Officer David Burress, played by Reed Diamond, best known — to me, anyway — from Dollhouse.
David fails his interview because — and I shit you not — he’s a vegetarian. Okay, fine, I shit you a little. He also won’t or can’t contemplate doing anything against the rules in service of the greater good. But mostly it’s because he orders a soy dog and a tomato juice from a hot dog vendor. Hondo’s own words: “How the hell can I trust a man who won’t even eat a good old fashioned American hotdog?”
Sometimes, when I watch this movie, I like to imagine vegetarians all over the nation flipping off the screen at this part. It should probably be said: I’m not one of them. I really like cheeseburgers. Also, chicken parmesan. And chicken enchiladas. And pizza with pepperoni and sausage.
8. As for the actual Super SWAT team members:
Okay, we’ve already covered Street a fair bit. I just thought I’d mention that Colin Farrell is decent enough in the role. He’s not amazing or anything — certainly no In Bruges, not that I would really expect In Bruges quality acting from S.W.A.T. — but I’ve seen far worse. His American accent is completely serviceable, if utterly disappointing. (Why, movie? Why do you deny us our sexy Irish accent time? I’m so sad now.)
LL Cool J plays Deke, and he does what LL Cool J does in most action movies — runs around, shoots things, utters a few witty lines, and shows off his abs. Mind you, I’m not complaining about this. Cause, damn. Those are some nice abs to have. I had abs like that, I’d be showing them off all the time too. My favorite LL Cool J moment in the whole movie is probably the celebration dinner where he lifts up his shirt and the team tucks dollar bills into the band of his jeans and underwear. (Or, alternatively, tells him to “put that away.” Oh, envious boys.)
Michelle Rodriguez plays Chris Sanchez, and like LL Cool J, she’s doing basically the same thing she usually does too, which is to shoot things and scowl a lot. She does this well, although — as I’m sure I’ve mentioned in other reviews — I get tired of it sometimes, mostly because I see these little glimpses of range, and I’d like to see her tackle a badass who’s also three-dimensional, or even a three-dimensional character who isn’t a badass. (Maybe I just want to see her as a lead character in a non-boxing movie. Boxing movies are kind of the lowest of the low for me, when it comes to sports films and interest.)
From interviews I’ve read, I get the feeling that Rodriguez likes playing the go-to badass chick, which honestly, more power to her. I would just love to see another side of her, or at least a different level of badass. Although Rodriguez does do something here that she fails to do in many of her other films: live. This is the rare movie where her character doesn’t bite the big one by the end.
(Oh, and if you’re interested in one of those glimpses of range I mentioned — there’s this great expression that comes over Rodriguez’s face when she’s sees Boxer’s been shot. It’s a fleeting thing, but it works really well in scene. You know, she conveys emotion quickly over her seriously injured teammate without getting all teary-eyed and useless, which I appreciate immensely.)
As I mentioned earlier, Brian Van Holt doesn’t have a whole lot to do here except occasionally snap at Street. I kind of like him anyway, but I won’t kid myself or you: this is mostly because I enjoy him in other things like Cougar Town and Basic — another ridiculous guilty pleasure starring Samuel L. Jackson. (Jackson’s just in so many great ones.)
Boxer’s best moment? Hmmm, I don’t know. Can I just single out his mustache instead?
TJ McCabe is surprisingly likable for a greedy turncoat, which I suspect is entirely due to the fact that Josh Charles is the one playing him. I don’t know if I can pick a favorite moment for TJ. I like when he’s victory dancing on the shooting range after beating Hondo. I like when he’s openly laughing and munching on popcorn while Street and Boxer are start brawling. Admittedly, the line he tries on his date (“You know, I may work in the mud, but I certainly like to play up in the clouds”) is absolutely terrible, but I still like the guy anyway. Oh, TJ. Don’t join up with Gamble! I like you too much to watch you shoot yourself in the head when it all goes to hell.
In retrospect, I should have known that TJ would be a bad guy from the moment I saw him drinking French champagne, much to the delight of his annoying date. After all, as we already know from the hotdog incident, real heroes? Only eat and drink good old-fashioned American food, like beef trimmings and beer.
9. Actually, let’s talk for a minute about foreshadow in this movie. Specifically, let’s talk about how it’s terrible.
Exhibit A: “Reminds me of my third divorce”
Hondo and Street go to the hospital to meet Chris Sanchez for the first time. They’re hoping she’ll be a better fit for their team than Soy Dog Guy. What they don’t know, however, is that she’s a woman — because apparently police files don’t mention the officer’s gender. Yeah. I believe that.
Hondo sees a bad guy that Sanchez beat up. His reaction? The quote above. Which pretty much flat out tells the audience that Sanchez is going to be a woman. Nevertheless, Samuel L. Jackson and Colin Farrell will spend the next two minutes pretending that they (and everybody in the audience) don’t already know who will be behind the curtain when they draw it aside.
If you want it to be a surprise, guys, don’t clue us in with the line. But really, let’s just go ahead and not make it a surprise because seriously. YOU ARE LOOKING AT HER FILE RIGHT NOW, HONDO. Maybe there isn’t a picture in there — I guess I could believe that — but I refuse to believe that the LAPD is so advanced in their thinking of gender roles that they didn’t at least mark F for Female somewhere in that folder.
Exhibit B: “I’m good now”
So, TJ is a bad guy. Technically, this is revealed when he turns his gun on Street and Boxer. It’s actually revealed, however, fifteen minutes earlier, when he shows up late with some BS excuse about bad Thai food and tells Hondo that he’s “good now.” I actually remember watching this in theater and thinking, “Oh, okay, so TJ’s working with Gamble.”
Unlike Exhibit A, which is just a bunch of artificial nonsense, you actually do need foreshadow for TJ’s abrupt character turn. (Non-champagne related foreshadow, that is.) But to do it here in this way . . . it’s so bad. We might as well just see him calling Gamble, if we’re going to be this obvious about the fact that he’s switched sides.
10. It occurs to me that I haven’t really talked about our villains yet.
This is hardly Jeremy Renner at his Oscar nominated best, but he’s totally serviceable in this movie. Although, honestly? This is the first thing I ever saw Renner in — way back when I was maybe eighteen and still navigating what kinds of movies I liked and didn’t like — and I kind of despised him at the time. I suspect this had to do with the character’s whininess in the early locker room scene because he’s really not so bad later on. (Well, Gamble does make a J-Lo crack at Michelle Rodriguez. I mean, he remains an asshole. He’s just not such a whiny one.)
I bring all this up because I remember seeing 28 Weeks Later in theater — which I was already concerned about, considering how much I loved the first one — and feeling my heart sink a little when I realized that the annoying bad guy from S.W.A.T. was a main character. But as I watched the movie, I was like, Huh. This guy is . . . kind of good. And then I watched The Unusuals and was like, Holy shit, I LOVE this guy.
I certainly don’t love Olivier Martinez as much as Jeremy Renner, but he’s okay in this movie. I mean, he has smarmy smirk down pat. That’s mostly what he does in S.W.A.T., smirk in a smarmy and vaguely evil manner.
As far as his scenes go . . . it’s not that they’re so bad or that they take so long. I just don’t care about them. Every time we flip back to watch Alex murder relatives or wile away in a prison cell, I keep thinking, Yeah, this is great and all, but can we get back to the team-building please? (I’m pretty big on team-building. This is probably why I remain obsessed with fanfiction for The Avengers and Inception.)
Olivier Martinez’s best moment, on the other hand, is easy. It’s when he dismissively calls Street a loser for making less than 66 K a year. I just love how he says the word. It’s super French.
11. Apropos of nothing: Olivier Martinez is standing just behind LL Cool J when he makes a joke about how hot Halle Berry is. Since Martinez and Berry are — as of August 2013 — married, this amuses me more than it should.
12. Most of the action scenes are pretty enjoyable. My favorite?
Okay, so normally, it’s in English. Half the scene has no dialogue anyway, though, and the rest can pretty easily be understood whether or not you speak, er, German? Swedish? Russian? Look, I’m an American, and I eat hot dogs. (Although I don’t drink beer.) I’m clearly really bad at this kind of thing. Regardless, it’s totally worth watching for the voice they get to dub Samuel L. Jackson. Also, for Velasquez, who says, “Oh, yeeeeeah,” at one point. I’ve never even noticed this in the English version, but it stands out so starkly in this version that it sounds like they got Barry White to dub the part.
Point of possible — if unlikely — interest: the music from this scene gets stuck in my head all the time. Including once at work — I’m walking around a bunch of sick patients with someone in my head singing, “Time is running out!” Inappropriately, I giggled a lot that night. (Although nothing quite beats working in Pediatrics and having “Children’s Day at the Morgue” stuck in your head. I swear, I’m not trying for a morbid sense of humor. My unconscious is dark and inappropriate and will not be tamed.)
13. I forgot to mention Velasquez (Reg E. Cathey) earlier.
He doesn’t have very much to do, either, but I enjoy him and Samuel L. Jackson playing off each other. They seem like they’re having fun, and they add a lot of humor to the proceedings. Which is one of the reasons I like this movie so much — sure, there’s a lot of shitty logic that’s easy (and enjoyable) to tear apart, but S.W.A.T. is just a fun movie with a whole bunch of jokes and little asides that really work for me.
For instance: Deke’s first partner, who’s pretty openly laughing at LL Cool J’s annoyance with another character in scene. I’ve always liked that guy, well before I found out that he’s actually the director of the movie, Clark Johnson. Gotta give a dude props for casting himself in a role where someone throws a frying pan at his head.
14. I feel like I started this review as more of an actual recap and then quickly let it spiral into my usual random nonsense. As much I like my own brand of nonsense, should I get back to the plot? Yes, if only so I can bitch about these guys apparently being The Only Swat Team in the World.
So our guys have passed the Big Airplane Test and are officially a SWAT team proper. To celebrate, they’re each enjoying their day off. (Hondo’s golfing with Velasquez. TJ is drinking non-patriotic alcohol. Boxer is ignoring the broken kitchen sink. Deke is buying groceries with his kids. And Sanchez is throwing a birthday party for her little girl, which Street is also attending because . . . Reasons? I mean, it’s a cute scene and all, but the actual invitation always comes off a little awkward to me, like they don’t seem close enough for this yet. Anyway, whatever.)
Sadly, the team gets called in. Thankfully, TJ has not yet partaken of his French champagne yet, but if he had and couldn’t come . . . would he be held responsible for that? I mean, I understand that working for a specialized police division is not exactly like working at Arby’s. Really, I do — even though I’m not a nurse or a doctor or anything, I’m pretty sure that in the event of a geological disaster (read: earthquake) I can be called into work cause, you know, someone’s gotta find IV poles and pick up blood.
That being said, every situation SWAT gets called into is an emergency situation, isn’t it? They can’t actually be on-call all the time, right? There have to be other SWAT teams in the city to handle these problems. In fact, I know there are because this movie mentions them later — and yet, for no apparent reason, our SWAT team is called in on their day off to deal with this one crazy and totally not plot relevant bad guy. The hell?
Because our guys are so badass — and by our guys, I really mean Street and his giant ram/harpoon thingie — don’t snicker — they easily dispatch of Crazy Bad Guy. But they can’t go back to their day off because now they have to transport Actual Plot Relevant Bad Guy Alex Montel to his prison transport. Hey, here’s the actual story!
15. Eh, can we just skim over the actual story? Here’s basically what happens: our Super SWAT Team tries to escort Alex to a helicopter, but Gamble and his Big Ass Gun blow up said helicopter because, really. Helicopters are vehicles of death.
Then they take Alex underground while all those poor schmucks get assigned to Decoy Duty. (And while making this plan, we affirm there are at least two other SWAT teams in the city, not that they will do shit for the rest of the film.) Our Super SWAT team splits in half. TJ reveals that he’s a bad guy. Gamble shoots Boxer but only handcuffs Street because he clearly still loves him and can’t kill his old partner. (Don’t believe me? Keep going.)
Lots of chasing and action scenes through subway tunnels and sewers ensue. Eventually, they all end up on a bridge. Best part about the bridge scene: when Gamble refuses to back up or even blink as his getaway plane is speeding straight at him. Cause, you know. Real men don’t flinch.
Our Super SWAT team keeps the bad guys from escaping. Sanchez gets shot in the chest, but is thankfully wearing a bulletproof vest and is only down for a matter of minutes. TJ of the guilty conscience makes sure Boxer is still alive before shooting himself in the head. Alex is caught yet again because he’s not a very self reliant villain. And Street follows Gamble down to the train tracks where they fight mano a mano.
16. About this fight —
A. The Navy Seals taught Street how to track people. They taught him how to fight. They taught him how to activate and deactivate bombs. What they apparently didn’t teach him is how to recognize the most obvious traps IN THE WORLD.
Picture this for a second: you follow your evil ex-partner under a bridge where a whole bunch of train tracks are. You’re kind of exposed, and you don’t see your ex-partner anywhere. What you do see is a gun. It’s just sitting there randomly in the middle of a moving platform, just a little bit out of reach. Do you try to go for the gun? Or do you already know this ends with your ex-partner leaping out of the shadows and stabbing your hand through the platform?
B. Once again, though, Gamble fails to kill Street. He likens him to a bad rash — not the most devastating insult I’ve ever heard, I must say — and takes off, even though he could easily just pick up the gun and shoot Street, now defenseless, in the head. Yeah. Gamble totally still loves him.
C. Street, however, has no real problem killing Gamble. All right, fine. He probably isn’t trying to kill him. He gets free and they fight. At one point, Street has the upper hand but throws his gun away because he doesn’t just want to arrest him, clearly. He wants to beat the everloving crap out of Gamble. Which is one way to describe what happens. Another way: Street kicks Gamble; Gamble falls, and a train runs over his head.
Street then bows his head in what could be anguish but probably isn’t, since he makes a crack not five minutes later about the cops needing to get a body bag for his dead once-friend.
17. Time to go home, right? HA. Someone still needs to transport Alex to prison. Should it be one of the other two SWAT teams, perhaps? You know, the ones who’ve just been chilling at an airport, assuming Alex was heading there? Should it be one of the fully intact SWAT teams, or should it, in fact, be up to the team who has one traitorous officer in a body bag, another officer in critical condition, an officer who just killed his ex-partner, and an officer who’s been shot and is probably feeling some pain, despite the fact that she was wearing a bullet proof vest?
Well, I think we all know the answer to that.
18. So, our Super SWAT Team drop Alex off at prison, and they’re on their way home. Another call comes in, police requiring assistance. Hondo mentions that they’ve technically been off duty for about forever now, and Street’s all, “So?” And I’m like, “Fuck you, Street. What do you mean, SO? There’s no way your ass would still be running around!”
But since our Super SWAT Team is apparently up for the challenge, no matter how ridiculous it is, they ride off into the credits like heroes, leaving me — a vehement non-hero and couch potato enthusiast — to shake my head in disgust.
Street: “Why’d you pick me?”
Hondo: “To piss off the captain.”
Sanchez: “Guys, it’s only eleven o’clock! I got a babysitter for the first time in three months.”
Deek: “I’ve been up since four.”
Sanchez: “That’s weak.”
Deek: “If I get home by midnight, I might get me some.”
TJ: “If I get home before midnight, I’m finding some. Sorry, babe.”
Boxer: “I know I’m not getting some. If I don’t get home soon, my wife’s going to freak.”
Hondo: “Shame you’re not playing a terrorist.”
Hondo: “Is that a new course record?”
Hondo: “You look like you need a Band-Aid.”
Street: “Sure you don’t want to sit in the back? I could wear a little cap.”
Hondo: “I like the view from up here. Cap thing’s a nice touch, though.”
Alex: “What do you make? 66,000 a year?”
Street: “Not even with overtime.”
Hondo: “Street, you got a driver’s license?”
Street: “Got a library card.”
Hondo: “Good enough.”
Hondo: “Don’t beat him so badly I can’t get a rematch.”
Street: “I won’t make any promises.”
Hondo: “It’s my money, man.”
Captain Fuller: “Sometimes doing the right thing isn’t doing the right thing.”
Sgt. Howard: “What the hell is that supposed to mean?”
Oh, it’s dumb fun. But it’s still fun.
Samuel L. Jackson. But silver medal would probably go to Josh Charles.
Heroes eat hot dogs. Vegetarians and vegans, go fuck yourselves.