S.W.A.T. takes about a reel and a half to find its groove, but once it does, it's not bad (by summer-blockbuster standards). Consider that the cop action/drama format is totally overdone: there are numerous movies and countless television shows. Add in that S.W.A.T. is the TWELFTH major action movie to be released this summer, and you've got a set-up for a film that could be completely unoriginal and boring. For some reason, it's not.
The story has plenty of turns to keep things moving. There is a distinct three act setup with a definite conflict and climax in each act. In act one, we meet Jim Street, a S.W.A.T. officer for the L.A.P.D. in the middle of a compromising hostage situation. The split-second decision of his partner will cost him a demotion from S.W.A.T. and an important friendship. Lucky for Street, a legendary S.W.A.T. officer named "Hondo" has just arrived in his division to put together a new S.W.A.T. team full of hot, young talent (emphasis on "hot" and "young"). Controversial and untested, the team must complete an intense simulation involving a plane hijacking. If they fail, both Street and Hondo will lose their S.W.A.T. designation and their police badges forever. Act three centers around the prison transport of a master criminal who has offered 100 million dollars to anyone who can free him.
This structured story coupled with very simple scene composition gives S.W.A.T. the feeling of a TV cop show injected with blockbuster-style action. The formula works well and makes a lot of sense considering S.W.A.T. is based on a television show and is the feature film directorial debut of Clark Johnson. Johnson's previous work included directorial stints for acclaimed TV crime dramas such as N.Y.P.D. Blue and Homicide. It's apparent that Johnson doesn't yet know what to do with a 120 minute running time, but he shows promise. Action scenes are handled well, with lots of medium and wide shots so the audience can follow what's going on. In addition, the actors are allowed to do what they do best.
After slogging through some stilted introductory dialogue, Samuel L. Jackson hits his stride as the team leader who knows he's "Just. That. Good." Colin Farrell fans who enjoyed The Recruit are treated to plenty of sweating and muscle flexing and even some fancy moves with his baton. But the scene-stealing co-stars, Michelle Rodriguez and L.L. Cool J, are the most fun to watch as the two most unconventional members of the S.W.A.T. team.
Not every scene is a success. The S.W.A.T. training sequence is a little tired and the film would really benefit from having ten minutes trimmed out of it. Additionally, the film comes across as a bit of a propaganda piece for Homeland Security. But all in all, the positives outweigh the negatives for S.W.A.T.
-Megan A. Denny