While a sequel in name only to the 2003 snooze fest, "S.W.A.T," Benny Boom, most noted for his work as a music video director, delivers an admirable but heavily flawed straight-to-DVD entry titled "S.W.A.T: Firefight." Running a breezy 89 minutes, "Firefight" is a by-the-numbers action film that feels more like a discarded television pilot, spruced up with some moments of R-rated violence and language. Wasting no time with character development, Boom gets our protagonist, Paul Cutler (Gabriel Macht), the leader of an LAPD S.W.A.T unit on a plane and off to Detroit, tasked with getting Detroit S.W.A.T certified in new DHS anti-terrorism techniques. Almost on cue with where an hour-long television episode would be ending, the first monkey wrench is thrown into the mix and Walter Hatch (Robert Patrick) enters as the thorn in the side of Cutler.
No one should go into "Firefight" expecting anything more than some decently staged action attached to a serviceable script, and to writer Reed Steiner's credit, the story maintains a consistent, adequate pace. Boom's direction shows promise, but is still stuck in his music video roots. The camera work is often too ambitious and instead of heightening the tension during one of the film's standoff set pieces, it ends up being a distraction. Further complicating matters is visual style that is entirely too polished and staged, with over lighting being a subtle, but noticeable factor. I don't mean to stereotype Detroit, but for a film about a S.W.A.T team, the production doesn't make a single attempt to play off the city's reputation for having some intense, high-crime areas. Every location is "pretty" and devoid of all life outside of our main characters.
If the television look of the production wasn't a big enough setback, "Firefight" completely falls apart in the final 15 minutes, which all hinge on the build up of Patrick as the villain. None of Cutler's team are well-developed characters; like the rest of the cast they are broad stereotypes, but the actors filling these shoes do an admirable job of playing their roles and garnering the necessary sympathies. To Macht's credit, he is far more charismatic than the film deserves and tries to inject some semblance of humanity into a paper-thin hero. I'm probably one of the few defenders of "The Spirit" alive, but it's a bit disheartening to see Macht relegated to shouldering a C-level action film instead of playing a supporting role in an A-level film. The same can't be said for Robert Patrick who is embarrassingly awful as the mysterious CIA agent gone rogue. From the terrible instigator of his obsession with Cutler, involving a botched hostage negotiation, to the final confrontation, Patrick has effectively thrown away what little credibility he's been hanging onto since "Terminator 2." His motivation, an obsession with a civilian office worker (Kristanna Lokken, in a blink and you'll miss her bit part) is at the high point, laughable.
"Firefight" does it's best to work around Patrick's terrible performance, mixing moderately effective suspense sequences with some lighter training sequences, however, when it comes time for Cutler and Hatch to have it out, "Firefight" takes a wrong turn. The final act of "Firefight" is painfully rushed and poorly scripted, feeling like a last minute modification to wrap things up before the credits roll. It only further fuels my suspicion that the first two-thirds of the film had their genesis as a TV production, setting up what would have probably been a half to full season story arc. Boom does his dandiest to give viewers a satisfying conclusion, but despite all the shootouts and explosions, we just don't care about anyone in the film anymore. "S.W.A.T: Firefight" ultimately fails to measure up to other direct-to-DVD B-movie action, but is at least a passable time waster.
The 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is incredibly sharp, with just a few instances of digital noise during some overly bright exterior sequences. Color levels are strong, with flesh tones looking lifelike, while contrast is equally noteworthy. Only under close scrutiny does a little bit of edge enhancement pop up, but overall, this is a solid visual transfer.
The English Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track is never overly aggressive, but far from being un-immersive, delivering the goods when needed. There's a heavy kick from the musical score, although some effects sound a bit underpowered (a possible sound department issue). Dialogue is clear and well mixed. A French 5.1 audio track is included as well. English, French, and Spanish subtitles are joined by an English subtitle track for the hearing impaired.
The lone extra "Sharp Shooting: On the Set" is a disposable, sub-10 minute promotional style behind-the-scenes look at the production. Expect some talking heads and rehearsal footage, but nothing truly insightful.
Never quite reaching B-movie status, "S.W.A.T: Firefight" is an admirable misfire, delivering adequate action and enjoyable cast drug down by a fumbling conclusion and hammy appearance by Robert Patrick. Benny Boom shows some notable promise as an efficient B-movie director, and his treatment of S.W.A.T is respectfully enthusiastic and tries to stay grounded in reality. Gabriel Macht is the film's one true saving grace, but he can only do so much with so little. Rent It.