S.W.A.T. came in the wake of two early-2000s developments; the rise of writer David Ayer, following the dual successes of The Fast and the Furious (which shares S.W.A.T.‘s producer) and Training Day in 2001, and the debut of The Shield in 2002. Ayer is one of four credited writers (out of, if Wikipedia is correct, at least eight writers total) on the film, and he almost certainly got the job after showing his “gritty cop movie” bonafides with Training Day. And Sony hired, after looking at every action auteur who was working in the 2000s (including Michael Mann, Michael Bay, Tony Scott, John Woo, Zack Snyder, and Training Day
‘s Antoine Fuqua), the director of several Shield episodes (including the pilot), Clark Johnson, to helm the film (in a neat bit of synchronicity, Shield creator Shawn Ryan is currently turning this movie, not the TV show it was based on, into a TV show for CBS). But while that combination of ingredients would seem to suggest the most self-serious cop movie ever made, improbably it instead created as wonderful a piece of no-frills action trash as has been made in this century.
The plot is barely worth discussing; a drug kingpin (Olivier Martinez) is arrested and offers a reward of $100 million (or, as he so memorably says it, “ONE HUND-RED MILL-YON DOLLARS!!!!!!”) to the person who frees him, and it’s up to a newly-formed S.W.A.T. team (including Samuel L. Jackson, Colin Farrell, LL Cool J, and Michelle Rodriguez) to get him in custody and take down those trying to collect the money. There are some unsurprising heel turns (sure, you cast Josh Charles to play a badass on par with those other guys, not a weasel), and a lot of competent enough action sequences; any given Shield episode is more unpredictable and has better-staged action than this (although there is a genuinely Shieldian shot early on, which rack focuses through the trigger of a gun and onto Colin Farrell). But what Clark Johnson doesn’t bring to the table in great action direction, he brings in momentum, as this breezes through its two hours and never flags or loses its focus (its focus just happens to be on the mustiest cop-movie cliches imaginable). It helps that he has a cast who can do this in their sleep. Samuel L. Jackson in particular is an absolute pro at saying shit like “How can I trust someone who can’t enjoy a good old fashioned American hot dog?” and making it work, and only Reg E. Cathey can turn “S.W.A.T. stands for Special Weapons and Tactics; where were your tactics out there?” into something resembling poetry. And those lines are only part of Ayer’s wonderfully bone-headed script, full of weird approximations of tough-guy patter, a hilarious belief in the inherent shock of a super-tough cop being *gasp* a lady, and, best of all, two separate and distinct moments in the climax which set up callbacks to earlier in the film that are immediately ignored in favor of throwing in more bullshit. And I almost forgot to mention the shirtless, slo-mo exercising montage with Colin Farrell set to the Stones’ “Shattered” (which is all the funnier because the movie takes place in L.A. and not New York).
S.W.A.T. is available on DVD and Blu-Ray, and can probably be found in used-media store you can think of.