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Sony continues to release nice mid-level action flick for their Blu-Ray line. That's understandable, they don't want to put out big titles while the players are still fairly rare in homes, but they still need to give early adopters something worth watching. Their latest offering is S.W.A.T., a 2003 film based on the 1975 TV series. While this isn't a great film by any stretch, it's still a nice popcorn flick with lots of big guns and several explosions that is a lot of fun to watch even if it's soon forgotten.
Jim Street (Colin Farrell) is one of the best members of a LAPD S.W.A.T. (Special Weapons And Tactics) unit until he gets kicked off the squad when his trigger happy partner disobeys orders during a raid and ends up shooting a suspect. Not wanting to give his partner up, Street gets demoted to pushing papers and cleaning weapons.
The LAPD has been getting a lot of bad press so the Chief of Police manages to convince an old SWAT leader, Sgt. Dan 'Hondo' Harrelson (Samuel L. Jackson) to come back and form a new SWAT group. Hondo recruits a team of five seasoned officers who have what it takes. They all play by the rules, except when the rules get in their way. Though their administrative superior is hoping for them to fail, this new team works like a well oiled machine and passes each test that's put in front of them.
Things get harried when the local jail discovers that they're holding a drug king pin who was arrested for a minor traffic violation and was being held under an assumed name. When his compatriots fail to free him, brought down by Hondo's SWAT team of course, he shouts into the news cameras that he'll pay $100 million to anyone who can free him. Everyone tries for the prize and fails, but when Street's old partner decides he's like the cash the SWAT team has to go up against someone with all of their training and experience.
Though this was a fairly predictable movie (would anyone be surprised if I said that Street ends up fighting his old partner hand-to-hand at the end?) it was still enjoyable. Though my wife had no interest in seeing this movie, I had fun watching the gun battles that always seem to end with an explosion or two. If you are looking for more than that, keep looking 'cause you won't find it here.
The acting from the ensemble cast, that also included Michelle Rodriguez, LL Cool J, and Josh Charles, was very good, though you could tell they were all in the movie for the big paycheck. Samuel Jackson plays the tough-but-fair character that he often plays and he does a good job. Farrell is also adequate as the bright and devoted young officer. No one is going to win any awards, but they won't be embarrassed by their performances either.
When all is said and done this is a solid, if ultimately forgettable, action film. There are a lot of exciting scenes, some cool battles, and not a lot of time wasted on things like plot or characterization. If you're looking for a simple but fun movie, you could do worse than this.
Note: The only Blu-Ray DVD player on the market at the time of this review is the Samsung BD-P1000. Apparently an error crept into the design, and a noise reduction algorithm on one of the chips was turned on which creates a softer picture. As yet there is no fix for this, or even an official announcement from Samsung.
The 2.40:1 widescreen image looks good overall but is a bit of a mixed bag. Some of the scenes are excellent and really have that HD 'pop'. The shooting contest at the beginning, for example. The green grass is bright and vivid and the men running through the field have that 3D look that makes HD video so impressive. Other scenes, though these are the minority, appear flat and lifeless. The scene where bad guy Alex Montel (Olivier Martinez) meets greets his uncle in a restaurant is a good example of this. The uncle seems to blend in with the background and the scene lacks the definition that it should have. Happily these are infrequent. The night scenes which fill the movie generally look good, with a good amount of detail even in the shadows. While this isn't a perfect transfer it is very good overall and not a disappointment like many of the earlier releases.
This disc comes with an uncompressed PCM 5.1 soundtrack as well as DD 5.1 tracks in English and French. I viewed the film with the PCM soundtrack and it was very nice. The mix is very active, with effects and background music always present, and the film makes good use of the entire soundstage. The mix is clean and clear and fits the movie well.
It's going to be hard to convince people to switch over to Blu-Ray discs when they only offer a small portion of the bonus items that appear on the SD DVDs. The regular DVD included a commentary with director Clark Johnson and actors Samuel L. Jackson, LL Cool J, Brian Van Holt, Josh Charles, Jeremy Renner, and Michelle Rodriguez and a second commentary track with the screen writers and technical consultants. There were also four featurettes (!) and a further extra on creating the sound for the movie. What's on the Blu-ray disc? Eight deleted scenes (that also appear on the SD DVD.) As disappointing as that is, it gets worse. There isn't a 'play all' button, so you have to select a scene, wait for it to load, watch the 30 seconds clip, wait for the menu to load, and then repeat the process with the next scene. This gets old really fast and it seems that more time is spent on waiting for things to load than actually watching the clips. These deleted scenes aren't in HD of course, and what's worse is that they aren't anamorphic. Normally I wouldn't mind that on deleted scenes, but the Samsung BD-P1000 will not output video in anything but 16:9 (even if the player is set for a 4:3 output), so it stretches the 4:3 image. This makes everyone short and fat. Ugh.
Like most, if not all, of the recent movies based on old TV shows, S.W.A.T isn't a great film, but it's not a horrible one either. With only a basic plot and cardboard characters, the movie has to make up for these deficits with some big budget action scenes and it manages to do that. The Blu-Ray disc looks pretty good overall, better than many of the earlier releases, with some very nice looking scenes that makes you realize you're watching an HD disc. If Sony had ported all of the extras from the SD version over the disc would be stronger. I'm really getting tired of the minimal extras on these Blu-Ray discs. With those caveats in mind, this disc would make a good rental.