Shiny Shelf


By Mark Clapham on 08 December 2003

This is a bad, bad film. As such, it should be watched like all ludicrously bad films – under controlled circumstances, with friends, and with very little money being paid for the pleasure.

The cast list reads more like a rap sheet, a list of crimes committed by all those involved. There’s Colin “every other useless movie released these days” Farrell, Michelle ‘Resident Evil’ Rodriguez, LL ‘Deep Blue Sea’ Cool J, Samuel L “I was in ‘Deep Blue Sea’ as well” Jackson, and even a brief appearance by Ashley Scott, star of disasterous comic book TV show ‘Birds of Prey’. Jackson in particular needs to sack (or preferably shoot) his agent – he’s a great actor, and shouldn’t be wasting his time on secondary roles in garbage like this. ‘Pulp Fiction’ seems an awful long time ago when you’re watching ‘SWAT’.

Jackson, and indeed the rest of the cast, try their best with a script that seems to have been crudely patched together from scenes cut from previous bad cop narratives. It’s as if someone swept up scraps of paper from Richard Donner’s floor and sellotaped them together, creating a screenplay that leaves no clich? unturned as it recalls the ‘Lethal Weapon’ series, ‘Miami Vice’ and other useless police ephemera of the 1980s.

Farrell and his partner (played by Jeremy Renner, memorable from a guest shot in ‘Angel’ way back when, but hardly star material) are maverick SWAT officers who disobey orders. When Renner injures a hostage while taking down a criminal, he and Farrell get kicked off SWAT. The scene where they’re busted by their pencil-neck middle-manager boss sums up the problems with the film, hitting every cliche imaginable in a torrent of hackneyed gibberish. Renner leaves the force after an explosively homoerotic confrontation, but Farrell decides to take his punishment, oiling fellow officers’ barrels in ‘the gun cage’ while waiting for a chance to rejoin SWAT.

Six months later, Farrell gets his chance when ‘old school’ SWAT man Samuel L Jackson is brought back to put a team together and restore the force’s sullied reputation. There’s some recruitment scenes, a training montage, and then our team of ethnically diverse, maverick SWAT officers are assigned the job of transferring slimy euro-criminal Olivier Martinez to a secure FBI prison. Martinez’s character is French (hardly a nationality known for global crime syndicates), and seems to be evil by virtue of his sheer foreign-ness. The one clever idea in the film is of Martinez, dragged past news cameras after his address, shouting out a reward for anyone who rescues him. This cleverness is undermined by the sheer daftness of the sequences that follow, as LA street gangs team up to try and bust Martinez out.

Of course, there’s a traitor in the SWAT ranks. Of course, the SWAT team’s snotty superiors don’t understand them and get in their way. Of course, the woman in the team (Rodriguez) gets stick for being a girl, but proves her worth. Of course, the team bonds and rescues the city, showing their bosses what counts. Everything is wholly predictable, while somehow being banally ludicrous.

There’s a tentative romance between Farrell and Rodriguez, but the real heat is between Farrell and the other male characters: the man who betrayed him (Renner), and the man who teaches him to find his passion for SWAT again (Jackson). This is a man’s film, and as such inevitably ends up utterly camp in its attempts at machismo.

The one thing of merit here is the direction. Clark Johnson showed that he knew how to film LA, the feel of the city and its diverse character, back when he was working on the TV show ‘The Shield’. On that show he got to portray a believable world of cops and criminals, but here he struggles with the thumping stupidity of the script. However, Johnson gets to show a bit of his talent while setting up some of the scenes in the field, showing off his beloved city from a mixture of angles and film stocks. He also handles the action well, keeping everything clear so that the audience don’t get lost in all the explosions.

Unfortunately, Johnson doesn’t have much to work with. His shiny visuals are not so much a layer of polish as the butter on a great fat turkey. ‘SWAT’ is bad, ‘SWAT’ is stupid. However, those in search of something to ridicule will find a moment of ludicrous idiocy to laugh at in every single minute of the film. There’s a potential enjoyable time to be had, but it’s not the one the makers of this dumb, dumb film intended.

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By Mark Clapham

Mark Clapham is a Devon-based writer and editor. You can find out more about him at the egotistically named

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