By Shawn McKenzie 08/08/2003
I wonder what is easier when it comes to doing a big screen adaptation of a TV series: remake a beloved classic or remake an obscure show that doesn’t even air repeats on TV Land. I guess it really all depends on the delivery and the right people, because you don’t even have to remember the original TV show to enjoy S.W.A.T.
On the violent streets of Los Angeles, there is a lot of crime. Sometimes it is so intense that it is too much for the regular police force to handle it. That where the Special Weapons and Tactics unit, or S.W.A.T., comes in. Jim Street (Colin Farrell) and Brian Gamble (Jeremy Renner) are partners on the L.A. S.W.A.T. team. One afternoon, during a hostage standoff, they take down the criminals without any hostage fatalities, but they do it by breaking orders and shooting one of the hostages, a bank teller (Heather Salmon), in the process. Capt. Thomas Fuller (Larry Poindexter) demotes them instead of firing them, which is what he wanted to do originally. Gamble decides to quit, and he expects Street to do so as well. Street decides to stay, taking a low-level position in weapon supplies for the next six months, which ticks off Gamble. Needing to form a new team, Fuller and Lt. Greg Velasquez (Reginald E. Cathey) ask Commander Dan “Hondo” Harrelson (Samuel L. Jackson), a former S.W.A.T. member himself with a checkered past involving Fuller, to head the formation of the new five-member team. Already having experienced S.W.A.T. members Michael Boxer (Brian Van Holt) and T.J. McCabe (Josh Charles) assigned to his team, he needs to find three others. The first person he is interested in (though the last person he asks) is Street, who impresses him with his knowledge of weapons and his ability to beat McCabe on the S.W.A.T. obstacle course. He then asks street officer Deacon “Deke” Kay (LL Cool J) to join after witnessing him chase after a street thief. The final person he recruits (if you don’t count Street) is Chris Sanchez (Michelle Rodriguez), a tough woman who has applied for S.W.A.T. several times, but was always turned down mainly because she is a woman. Hondo trains the team, and they are soon very effective, to the delight of Velasquez but the dismay of Fuller. After a few relatively easy assignments, they tackle their first big job. An international arms smuggler and drug dealer named Alex Montel (Olivier Martinez) was captured during a routine speeding stop and now he needs to be transferred to the feds from the L.A. jail cell. He throws a wrinkle in the transfer by saying to TV news cameras that he will offer anyone $100 million if they can free him from custody any safely help him escape. This brings criminals from out of the woodworks everywhere, and it is up to the S.W.A.T. team to deliver Montel to the feds and fight off all of the criminals battling to free him for the money.
I think I might be a little biased when it comes to this movie. This is the big screen debut for director Clark Johnson, but he has been in the game for a while. Before concentrating on directing, he was best known for playing Detective Meldrick Lewis on one of the best cop shows of all time, “Homicide: Life on the Street.” He has directed episodes of his show, “NYPD Blue,” “The West Wing,” “Third Watch,” “The Wire,” and even the pilot episode for “The Shield” (which earned him an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Directing for a Drama Series.) In 2001, he directed the excellent HBO TV movie “Boycott,” which won a Peabody Award. I’m not sure what spurred him to make a big screen adaptation of a short-lived ABC series from the ‘70s (its theme song was more successful, having gone to #1 on the Billboard chart in 1975), but it wasn’t the worst choice he could have made. I think he may have realized that these were cool characters, but obscure enough that people wouldn’t gripe about accuracy. He does throw a bone to the diehards though by featuring cameo appearances from original cast members Steve Forrest (who played Hondo) and Rod Perry (who played “Deacon” Kay.)
One thing they did do that didn’t sit well with me was that they used characters directly from the TV show, yet the show itself existed in their world. In one scene, you see a character watching the show, and in another, the team is singing the theme song while having beers together. I do know that normal everyday people don’t have their own theme song, and even if they came up with one, I doubt they all would have come up with the same one in a drunken state after a hard day of training.
A fellow critic at the S.W.A.T. screening said that he couldn’t think of a good PG-13 rated police drama that had come out recently. That person gave this movie a so-so review, but I’m giving it a good one. Despite my bias, it’s a thrilling police drama, and it shows that teamwork can get the job done. There is plenty of
action and explosions, but it isn’t gratuitous. Johnson was lucky to get such a cool cast (Jackson can make the phone book sound cool), and I think he is on his way to being one of my favorite directors. I’m looking forward to his next project. As far as TV adaptations go…bring on A-Team: The Movie!
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