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S.W.A.T.: Special Edition

At this point, one has to suspect that Pulp Fiction didn't do Samuel L. Jackson's inner thespian any favors. A Moorehouse grad with undeniable screen presence, the actor got his first screen breaks in several early Spike Lee films, in addition to a few notable bit parts, particularly in Goodfellas and Patriot Games. But since his iconic turn as Tarantino's fire-and-brimstone hitman Jules Winnfield, Jackson's filmography is smothered in typecasting — with few exceptions, he's built his career by playing brash, authoritarian figures with stern manners and a razor-sharp tongue. One could fault the actor for not using his particular cachet to explore a wider range of roles. Then again, it's not really his fault that the ticket-buying public would rather see him play foot-meets-ass, which is exactly what he does in S.W.A.T. (2003). Sharing the same title as the popular, short-lived ABC-TV series from the '70s (and little else), Jackson stars as 'Hondo' Harrelson, an LAPD veteran who's asked by his superior to put together a crack unit, assembled from the ground up. First to catch Hondo's eye is Jim Street (Colin Farrell), a sharp-shooting former Navy SEAL who's been banished to polishing firearms in the gun-cage after a hostage mishap with his former partner Brian Gamble (Jeremy Renner). Collaring the youngster to drive him around town, Hondo assembles the rest of his team — Chris Sanchez (Michelle Rodriguez), 'Deke' Kay (LL Cool J), T.J. McCabe (Josh Charles), and Michael Boxer (Brian Van Holt). There's bad blood early on between Street and Boxer, but before long a new case has captured the LAPD's attention — international criminal Alex Montel (an appropriately Eurotrashy Olivier Martinez) has been taken into custody, and he's brashly offered $100 million to any group of heat-packing goons that's able to spring him from the clink. Does it make any sense that this enormous liability, coupled with the amount of gunplay it induces, should result in a mere six-man S.W.A.T. detail taking charge of Montel's custody? Does it matter that S.W.A.T. units are trained to raid buildings and airliners, but aren't necessarily the vanguard of prisoner transportation? Um.... not really.

*          *          *

A pure formula movie slathered in creamy cineplex butter, S.W.A.T. asks very little from the viewer, and — provided expectations are properly set — delivers appropriate returns. The script uses Farrell's character Jim Street as a clothesline, following his dust-ups with the LAPD brass, his rivalry with former partner Gamble, and his flirtations with new partner Sanchez. Events kick into gear once the French fugitive Montel makes his daring ploy, and it's not hard to figure out who will spring him, turning the business matter into something very personal. Farrell's crew is rounded out by a good team of supporting actors, in particular LL Cool J as a former LAPD flatfoot who's only to happy to get his new tactical assignment, and Rodriguez as a pretty single-mom who can put the smack on perps twice her size. Leading the posse is the reliable Jackson — "I don't think you're feeling me on this!" he shouts over the radio at his CO while pursuing a rogue Learjet that's landed on an L.A. bridge. "We're going in!" It takes a pretty good actor to make clichés sound fresh — if Jackson doesn't quite achieve that here, at least he's a screen idol who can make it entertaining. Columbia TriStar's special-edition DVD release of S.W.A.T. features a solid anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) with appropriately rich Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. Supplements include two commentaries, one with director Clark Johnson and principal cast members, the second with screenwriters and crew members. Also on board are the featurette "Anatomy of a Shootout," which breaks down the opening scene (9 min.), a retrospective on the original TV show (7 min.), a "making-of" featurette (27 min.), eight deleted scenes, a look at the Learjet landing on the 6th Street Bridge (5 min.), a sound-design feature, a gag reel (3 min.), filmographies, and a trailer gallery (which, oddly does not include a S.W.A.T. trailer). Keep-case.

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