When Jack Webb was making telegraphic cop shows like “Adam-12” and “Dragnet,” and steel-gut movies like “The D.I.” and “-30-,” his machismo and love of authority were bullets of conviction. You could love or hate them, or just duck them, but they spoke of Webb’s character.
A swaggering ape like “S.W.A.T.” speaks of nothing but the almighty Hollywood deal chasing its hairy tail. Bolted for action, but flabby all over, it is derived in a stupid, distilled sense from the 1975 ABC-TV show that enshrined a paramilitary elite unit of police, full of Vietnam vets and gonzo for firepower.
Instead of Steve Forrest, there is the more able Samuel L. Jackson as Lt. Dan Harrelson, still called Hondo and barking “Mount up!” so we won’t miss his Duke Wayne aura. Jackson also gets to intone “Don’t touch my (gun)sight,” which ricochets off his more nuanced “don’t mess with my (stereo) levels” in the far hipper “Jackie Brown.”
Hondo is can-do to a fanatical degree. Eager to offend the Creepy Slick Suit (Larry Poindexter) who is his superior but, of course, his gross inferior, Hondo avows, “One casualty may be acceptable by department standards, but never by mine.” Needless to say, there are many casualties.
Jackson, who enjoyed his furniture role as Mace Windu in the last two “Star Wars” movies, probably also liked striding through this Wal-Mart of cliches. He’s the only actor of sizable presence, since Colin Farrell as hotshot Jim Street (Robert Urich on ye olde TV) is just a wind-up hottie, all ripped flexes and hardball stares, along with Josh Charles, LL Cool J and Jeremy Renner as a S.W.A.T. gun who leaves angry after wounding a civilian, nobody having noted before that he has the morals of a bar thug and sociopath.
Plot? Who needs plot?
The team assembled by Hondo, sort of half-a-dirty-dozen, even has a woman: Chris, played by the glower that glows, Michelle Rodriguez. Her gender edge for this work is that she can worm through the small crawl space on an airplane (the first viewer to say “Go, girl” wins a Barbie S.W.A.T. vest).
We get macho banter from both sexes, gun range rivalry, big team tests. TV-shaped director Clark Johnson piles on motorized close-ups and cuts that can make even the most expensive show seem like bad TV. There are cute gags about J.Lo, Halle Berry, Alex Trebek, even a Polish joke.
Time for plot! Bring on one-dude fashion layout Olivier Martinez as Alex, a French psycho who has killed 24 and bags No. 25 by slitting the throat of his uncle with a knife “given me by my father.” He is called “the frog.” Yes, in a world where America stands imperiled by mostly Middle Eastern terrorists, let’s relish a 2003 cop jamboree with a vile French villain — why not simply dress the S.W.A.T. team in American flags, and let them obliterate the French embassy?
Arrested, the swinish Alex offers $100 million to anyone who can free him. Within hours, L.A. is crawling with crazies armed with bazookas and other big-time weapons, ready to blow Alex free, demolish subways, escort him through sewers (yes, one has computerized bats) and land a jet plane on a street bridge. Of course, only Hondo’s squad can block this evil and perhaps Francophile scheme.
With any sanity, “S.W.A.T.” will be shown in France only at Euro Disney, to homesick (dementedly homesick) American tourists.
David Elliott is the movie critic of The San Diego Union-Tribune. © 2003 by the Copley News Service.