S.W.A.T. (2003)

(In theaters, August 2003) Everything about this film (trailer, poster, cast) screamed “generic action film” and indeed, the end result is almost a prototypical Hollywood product. There isn’t much that’s overly noteworthy about S.W.A.T., beginning with the actors’ performances. LL Cool J, Samuel L. Jackson, Colin Farrell and Michelle Rodriguez all play roles that aren’t dissimilar to their typecasting so far. (On the other hand, Rodriguez gets to smile and wear her hair down—once; it’s like a gift from the gods) But there’s a real pleasure in seeing these actors play their own archetypes, and this pleasure certainly carries over the rest of the film, which hits pretty much all of its objectives. This look at the L.A.P.D.’s elite force may not be particularly strong in the realism department, but it makes the obligatory action sequences feel more far more organic than in other similar films. One of the shining facets of the script (co-written by David Ayer, who’s quickly acquiring a reputation as L.A’s foremost cop writer after Training Day and Dark Blue) is how willing it it to explore the failures, and so we get a botched escape attempt and an unsuccessful recruitment attempt. This interest for the useless and the usual is often taken too far, though, as with pointless romantic scenes and quite a few sequences that drag on for far too long. The end product clocks in at more than two hours, at least fifteen minutes too many. In the hands of a more efficient director, one who truly understand action, this would have been quite a film; right now it’s just adequate. Fun, but not particularly memorable: A good-enough moment for just about everyone.

(Second viewing, On DVD, April 2004) Take a “generic action film” rubber stamp and apply it on this DVD. While S.W.A.T has a generous number of interesting moments and fun set-pieces, it never achieve anything memorable. Fine actors; fine direction; fine effects, cinematography and soundtrack. But is it anything more? Naah. At least the DVD can rely on the film’s solid tech credentials to liven things up, from a fascinating feature on sound design to an “anatomy of a shootout.” Also fascinating are the two audio commentaries; the first is with the director and most of the actors, with plenty of sarcasm from Michelle Rodriguez and the usual assortment of quick shooting information from the director. Far more interesting is the sparse second commentary, which brings together several of the screenwriters of the film, some of whom had never met through the film’s lengthy production history. The result is kind of a round-table discussion about blockbuster screenwriting, with plenty of inside bitching and some supplementary information on Training Day and American History X. Fascinating stuff, especially for anyone interested in screenwriting. Certainly more unique than the film itself.

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