Noisy cartoon fascism for the couch potato who can't get enough of "Cops."

By Charles Taylor

Published August 8, 2003 8:54PM (EDT)

Most of the audience that will turn out for the big-screen version of the '70s über-cop show "S.W.A.T." will likely not even remember the series, or the controversy that swirled around it for its unfettered endorsement of the police using extreme force. The makers of the film have done their best to bring back that aspect of the series. This is the sort of movie where a cop is turned down for S.W.A.T. duty because in six years on the force he's never had a civilian complaint lodged against him. And it tells us that the people keeping the cops from doing their jobs are the press, vocal minorities (we see a black woman berating the cops for arresting a young black man), and most of all the pussified police desk jockeys who don't know what it's really like on the street. Against them the movie proposes that the only way to keep the public safe is to ignore the rules and turn the cops loose on criminals.

It's hard, though, to swallow public safety as a mission when the heroes here are forever opening up their automatic weapons in public shootouts. They're the sort who, when they learn that the plane they have to keep from leaving the ground contains hostages, immediately open fire on it.

But to be incensed by the movie's noisy cartoon fascism, you'd first have to give a damn about it, and "S.W.A.T." is far from the pulp-movie cunning of "Dirty Harry." Directed by Clark Johnson (making his film debut; his TV credits include episodes of "The West Wing" and "Homicide") and written by David McKenna (who wrote "American History X" and perpetrated "Body Shots" and the remake of "Get Carter"), "S.W.A.T." lumbers along like a two-hour coming attraction trailer for a movie you've already seen far too many times.

It's a given that most big-budget action movies now have -- at best -- devices that stand in for story and character. "S.W.A.T." is like a signifier of a signifier. The cast includes Colin Farrell, Samuel L. Jackson, Michelle Rodriguez (still relying on her patented sulk) and L.L. Cool J. But you can't talk about performances in a movie like this, and if you've seen the TV ads you already know the story. A prime piece of Euroscum (Oliver Martinez -- the charges against his character should include this performance) is picked up by the LAPD and offers 100 million smackers to whoever busts him out. All sorts of baddies come out of the woodwork, though it looks like the money they've laid out for firepower would eat up any profits.

"S.W.A.T." seems best suited to all the couch-potato swinging dicks who get off watching the police on "Cops" keep the public safe from people in possession of marijuana. You can't get mad at it -- except for the two hours of your life it steals from you. But then, unlike me, there's no reason you have to sit all the way through it. Better yet, there's no reason you have to go.

Charles Taylor

Charles Taylor is a columnist for the Newark Star-Ledger.

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