Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.


Like this summer's other standout action movies, Spy Kids 3-D and X2, S.W.A.T. begins with familiar material–this time, the half-remembered '70s cop show of the same name–and makes it feel fresh and vital. The feature-film debut of actor turned director Clark Johnson (who previously helmed such superior cop shows as Homicide, NYPD Blue, and The Shield), the movie stars Samuel L. Jackson as a cocky veteran who commands a S.W.A.T. team headlined by Colin Farrell, Michelle Rodriguez, and LL Cool J. Archetypal cops-who-play-by-their-own-rules, they face a worthy foe in imprisoned French master criminal Olivier Martinez, who offers $100 million to anyone who helps him escape. The offer is taken up by what seems like half the thugs in Los Angeles. Television long ago eclipsed film as the premier forum for police drama, and one of the exciting things about S.W.A.T. is that it offers the best of both worlds, combining the scrappiness of a top-notch detective show with the resources and iconic names of a summer blockbuster. As the team leader, Jackson finds exactly the right tone for the role: a sort of playful cockiness that comes from knowing just how good he is. He's clearly having fun, but he never winks at the audience too much or allows his performance to devolve into camp. The same goes for the film, which is by turns brawny and agile. Though less fleet-footed in its plot-centered second half, it remains balanced while treading into progressively more ridiculous territory. S.W.A.T. is Johnson's first theatrical film, but his deft handling of well-worn material suggests it won't be the last.

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