Is there anybody on this planet that is badder than Samuel L. Jackson? Seriously? The guy could kick your arse with a harsh look. He is that tough. Throw in a little Ladys Love Cool James Todd Smith, some Colin Farrell and tough broad Michelle Rodriguez and one would expect a lot of action, a lot of snappy one-liners and plenty of Samuel L. Jackson getting those mother… well, that was another movie and if you were looking for a lot of Samuel L. showing why he is the baddest mutha on this planet, you would be watching another movie too. Instead of being the primary butt kicker, the big man sits back and lets the Colin, Michelle and L.L. Cool J flex the most muscle. He is old school S.W.A.T. and in this movie, that means letting his reputation show he is one tough customer and not some tough talk, muscle and gunfire. In "S.W.A.T.," Samuel L. Jackson is a supervisor.
That being said, it isn't necessarily a bad thing to have somebody like Samuel L. being the asskicking foreman when his underlings include the talented and rough Colin Farrell and the heavily chiseled rapper James Todd Smith. I'm not a fan of Michelle Rodriguez and was more than happy when she was gunned down on my favorite show, "Lost," but the feisty Latino actress found herself a good casting call in "S.W.A.T." Supporting actors Josh Charles and Brian Van Holt round out the S.W.A.T. team and though they do not possess the box office muscle of their co-stars, they hold their own nicely. Samuel L. is the man, but L.L. and Farrell have plenty of charisma on their own. "S.W.A.T." is a PG-13 action film that stars a man who had an entire film reshot to include the line "I've had it with these motherf2king snakes on this motherf2king plane." Samuel L. is the baddest dude on the block because he uses cursing as a weapon. The producers, director and other associated filmmakers gave him blanks here.
With a PG-13 rating, "S.W.A.T." finds itself being a watered down action film as well. There is violence, but any blood or gore is carefully hidden by the camera. This film was created with box office returns from the largest possible audience. Unfortunately, you get a bunch of pretty tough fellows (and Michelle) trying to be the toughest and hardest cops in the Los Angeles police force and they have been cleansed and stripped of any language or actions that would define them as such. The big climax does exhibit some nice pyrotechnics and a beheading, but it is done in a manner that goes down nice with popcorn. The opening scene where the S.W.A.T. team is working to bring down some bank robbers is well shot and plays out like a scene from Michael Mann's brilliant "Heat." Aside from these two moments, the S.W.A.T. finds themselves on a few petty sorties. One of which is entirely designed to show off a creation by Colin Farrell's character, a prop I fully expected to somehow factor in during the grand finale.
"S.W.A.T." was fun, but shallow. The opening scene establishes the characters of Jim Street (Colin Farrell) and Brian Gamble (Jeremy Renner). They are partners and have shot a hostage in order to save her life. This leaves Gamble off of the S.W.A.T. team and Farrell with a job in the armory. This leaves the first half of the film with Sergeant Dan ‘Hondo' Harrelson (Samuel L.) and Street driving around the city and recruiting a S.W.A.T. team and then training that S.W.A.T. to be the best possible. The second half of the film sets up the big climax and has the five members of the team, Street, Chris Sanchez (Michelle Rodriguez), Deacon Kay (L.L. Cool J), T.J. McCabe (Josh Charles) and Michael Boxer (Brian Van Holt) overcoming mistrust and ill feelings towards one another to deliver a hostage, Alex Montel (Olivier Martinez) to a maximum security prison after Montel announced a price of one hundred million dollars for his freedom.
The first time I watched "S.W.A.T.," I did not particularly like the film. I was disappointed. When the closing credits began to crawl, I felt I was cheated from a big grand action scene finale a la "Bad Boys" and more tough talk from the great Sam. The second viewing of "S.W.A.T." for this review found my demeanor far more accepting of director Clark Johnson's picture. Perhaps since my expectations were already broken the first time around, my ability to sit back and watch the film for what it is allowed me to enjoy it without the disappointment. "S.W.A.T." is a plain and basic action film. The starpower and possible eighty million dollar budget had me wanting more, but "S.W.A.T." goes by the numbers and tries to appeal to everybody. The makeup of the team is proof enough of that. The lovely Latino actress, two tough African American males, an Irish bad-boy, the redneck and a cookie cutter cop are those behind the S.W.A.T. team. There is somebody in that mix for everybody to try to relate to and root for. The filmmakers weren't going for awards or trying to put together a hard nosed cop film. They wanted to make some money. The film grossed over $116 million domestic. I'd say they accomplished their goals.
Life has been getting better for the Blu-Ray camp. Warner Bros. has been releasing some very good quality discs. Their initial wave of MPEG-2 titles were among the best on the format and their new VC-1 releases are perhaps the best. Sony's first couple of releases were heavily maligned. Picture quality was highly inconsistent. Detail went from being very good to being nearly on par with standard definition DVD. Fortunately, the studio responsible for the format is getting better and better all of the time. "S.W.A.T." continues the trend towards redemption and though it may not be the best title yet released by Sony, it is easily among the stronger titles. I'm not sure the promise of "Beyond High Definition" will ever be realized, but I can tell you that I'm starting to feel a lot better on my purchase of the Samsung BD-P1000 player.
The image quality for "S.W.A.T." is very good. Presented in 2.40:1, the picture is clean and highly detailed. Where earlier Blu-Ray ran the gamut throughout the film in this area, I can tell you that "S.W.A.T." is highly detailed from beginning to end. In a few close-ups, you can count the number of hairs on Samuel L. Jackson's lip. Colors are nicely saturated and contrasted perfectly. There are a good many dark sequences in the picture and black levels and shadow detail hold up rather nicely. There are a few instances where film grain takes an opportunity to jump into the action, but they are few and far between. One thing I've enjoyed about high definition is the near complete eradication of edge enhancement. Image quality really is cleaner and more natural with the new formats. "S.W.A.T." is certainly a nice disc to sit back and enjoy the benefits of 1080 resolution.
English Uncompressed PCM 5.1 audio. I'm starting to believe you could send me a Blu-Ray title of Uncompressed PCM 5.1 featuring the sounds of the Wednesday morning waste management team and I'd rave about it. I really have enjoyed Sony's choice of top-of-the-line audio thus far and "S.W.A.T." is no exception. In fact, aside from "House of Flying Daggers," "S.W.A.T." may be my second favorite title to listen to on Blu-Ray. Heck, Samuel L. isn't even cursing and it sounds great. There is a nice array of gunfire and the soundtrack strives to deliver each bullet by your ear. They whiz all over the place. Left speaker. Right speaker. Center channel. Each surround. I think I heard a bullet coming from speakers that aren't hooked up. Amazingly enveloping mix that rumbles loudly and echoes sharply with each ricochet or bouncing brass case. Elliot Goldenthal's score is carried nicely, as is the film's dialogue. During the closing credits, there is even a rap song about Samuel L. Jackson. Turning up the volume to enjoy that tune yielded impressive results. This early in the game, I have been very impressed with the Uncompressed PCM 5.1 mixes.
My standard definition DVD of "S.W.A.T." contains lots of nice supplements. There was a commentary track that included just about everybody. A handful of featurettes on the making of the film, a gag reel and a number of deleted scenes made the original release a more attractive package that what the quality of the film deserved. One of my biggest complains with Blu-Ray in its early days has been the poor support of value added content. HD-DVD has been doing a wonderful job of porting over the extras from their standard edition releases. Universal has been including items from their expensive limited editions. However, Blu-Ray has been very bare-bones. "S.W.A.T." is given no reprieve from this cruelty and only the 8 Deleted Scenes are tossed in with good measure on the Blu-Ray disc. Running only for a few minutes, the scenes do not add anything of great value to the film and the continued omissions are disconcerting.
I had my guns locked and loaded and was ready to put everything I had into tearing "S.W.A.T." apart. I didn't particularly enjoy the film the first time I watched it, but oddly found myself enjoying it enough that I didn't mind the film. It entertained me. Much of this was because I had very high expectations on my first screening of Director Clark Johnson's film. The second time around, I knew Samuel L. Jackson wasn't going to single-handedly take out all of the bad guys, throw out a few f-bombs in a snappy manner and walk dominantly into the sunset. I knew he had a lesser role than I could hope and I knew that "S.W.A.T." was not going to be anything like "Heat," the benchmark I set for anything even remotely relating to cops and robbers. As far as the Blu-Ray release, the picture quality is pretty good and the sound quality is top notch. Sony still has room for improvement before achieving their "Beyond High Definition" claim. Where the disc does falter is the limited supplements. A number were produced for the standard definition DVD release. We get a sampling on the next generation offering and considering this is supposed to be the next best thing, it is disappointing to settle for less.