“Detroit ain’t so bad, in fact it’s kind of charming.”
Director Benny Boom decided to move the S.W.A.T. franchise away from L.A. and bring it to Detroit. But he’s not going to be winning any accolades from the Detroit Chamber of Commerce anytime soon. He openly admits that he picked the city because he was attempting to create an environment with a lot of decay. He jokes that by filming in Detroit there was no need to create those conditions because they were free for the taking in the city. The main character begins the film by insulting the city. It’ll be interesting to see if Boom is invited back for a future project.
S.W.A.T. started life as a pretty popular 1970’s television series staring Steve Forrest and Robert Urich as members of LA’s S.W.A.T. (Special Weapons And Tactics) Unit. The show turned S.W.A.T. into a household term, and we all had images to go with those news reports when the unit was in the news. They usually handled hostage situations or cases where the bad guys had a lot more firepower than your run-of-the-mill crooks. The series only lasted two seasons but had built up enough of a cult following that a feature film was made in 2003 that resurrected the theme and main characters. The film featured the likes of Samuel L. Jackson in the Forrest role of Hondo and Colin Farrell in the Urich role of Street. Michelle Rodriguez and LL Cool J rounded out the main cast. It was an action/adventure film that took the series and wound it up a few notches. The movie did fairly well, pulling in about a quarter of a billion dollars worldwide. In spite of the relative success, the franchise didn’t get a follow-up…until now.
To call S.W.A.T.:Firefight a follow-up to the original series or the 2003 film is stretching the point quite a bit. None of the stars or characters can be found here. The only thing this movie shares with the franchise is the title and a new version of the original Barry De Vorzon theme, which did pretty well on the pop charts back in 1975. This direct-to-video version features a younger look at the idea with a completely independent story withand a relatively small-name cast.
Paul Cutler (Macht) is a superstar of the L.A. S.W.A.T. unit. He has never lost a hostage. When the Detroit PD asks L.A. to send them a good leader to train and certify their own S.W.A.T. team, Cutler is the go-to guy. He’s a bit reluctant to go to Detroit, pointing out that his colleagues have gotten better assignments in places like Florida and Hawaii. He has to be bribed with a promotion and bump in pay to take the gig. So it’s off to Detroit where he meets the team he has to train.
The Detroit team is resistant to his methods and fights his lead, particularly Justin Kellogg (Gonzales), whom he has to remove from the team, after a hostage mission goes terribly wrong. Cutler also gets resistance from Inspector Hollander (Esposito) who commands the unit. But the internal politics of the Detroit police aren’t going to be the only trouble facing Cutler. Walter Hatch (Patrick) is the bad guy involved in the botched rescue mission. He gets out on a technicality and blames Cutler for the death of his girl. Now he’s stalking the team and taking out his revenge little by little. It all leads to the inevitable showdown and expected carnage.
“The first rule of S.W.A.T.: Don’t get emotionally involved.”
That might very well be a sound axiom in law enforcement, but it’s not necessarily a good idea for a script. There are no less than four credited writers on this project, and they couldn’t manage to create any kind of emotion between them. The characters couldn’t be more cookie-cutter if they’d tried. Gabriel Macht gets by on his charm and silly grin throughout most of the movie. He appears to believe he’s there mostly just to look at. When he’s attempting to admonish his charges with his methods it is totally void of any kind of passion. The writers mistake sex for passion and throw in an affair between Cutler and the police shrink which is about as flat a romance as I have ever seen on film. It doesn’t help that it takes us mere seconds to figure out that the only reason for this liaison is to give the bad guy someone to threaten that might get a rise out of Cutler. Robert Patrick puts in the only performance worth truly noting here. Unfortunately, even he appears lost at times, and I have to wonder if he’s asking himself what the heck he’s doing here. The film has a few action moments but the scenes never really fire on all cylinders. Like most everything else in this film, it falls quite flat most of the time. Boom uses a music-video style here that makes it very hard to get into what’s happening on the screen. The action is in short bursts and quirky camera work that refuses to give us a seamless stream of action. Boom never lets us get comfortable enough to buy his vision.
S.W.A.T.: Firefight is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1. The 1080p image is arrived at with an AVC MPEG-4 codec at an average 25 mbps. I don’t know if it’s Boom’s annoying style here or the transfer itself, but something is wrong with this image presentation. The picture is often soft and poorly defined. Black levels are particularly bad here. You’ll find it hard to discern any shadow definition during the film’s darker moments. It’s almost as if the film happens in a blur. I suppose it might be considered much more realistic in that sense, but not too entertaining. Colors are muted as well. I understand this is a direct to video production, but I’ve seen television shows come out much crisper with superior detail and sharpness.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 is the one saving grace in this whole mess. The surround mix can be quite aggressive and often delivers what the image does not. Here we get the most feel for the action sequences. The sound design is the most solid aspect of this production. The music never intrudes but always bolsters the action. Dialog is clear as can be expected in some of these frantic action sequences. Although the end credits music is some of the worse I’ve ever heard.
Sharpshooting On The Set: (8:43) SD Boom likes to point out the natural violence and high murder rate in Detroit. Again, I have to wonder how happy the city was with his production. He mostly talks over film clips with some footage of the actors getting S.W.A.T. training.
There just isn’t anything to fall in love with in this one. The movie is flat, which is fatal for an action piece. The cast appear to have checked their emotions at the door. I’m not expecting an incredible script or even wonderful production values out of a direct-to-video actioner. I would appreciate it, however, if the film had some kind of an emotional life to it. This one was phoned in, and you’re best not to waste your time on it. If someone invites you over to watch this movie, “bring a good film with you.”