S.W.A.T.: Firefight

Posted on June 26, 2013

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Yes, there was a 2011 sequel to the 2008 S.W.A.T. reboot of a 1975 TV show.

Paul Cutler (Gabriel Macht) is an anti-terrorism expert for LAPD SWAT. After a successful hostage rescue, his boss sends him to Detroit to certify the Detroit SWAT team according to Homeland Security standards.

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When Cutler arrives, he finds a cocky team run by Inspector Hollander (Giancarlo Esposito). Cutler rigs a fake bomb scare to time how long it takes SWAT to show up. Then he tries to teach them to look further than their surface reading of a situation.

The SWAT team gets called to an office building, where they find Walter Hatch (Robert Patrick) holding a gun to Rose Walker (Kristanna Loken). After SWAT takes Hatch prisoner, Rose first threatens to shoot him, and then shoots herself.

Hatch vows revenge on the SWAT Team, and on Cutler in particular.

Short Version

A lesson in how not to write a good story.

Long Version

Okay, let me get one thing out of my system. How the heck do you get two Terminators (Patrick and Loken) in your movie, and not totally play off that? Why in the world would you let one of them cap herself in one scene? Wasted opportunity for some fun.

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Thanks for the chance to say that. Sadly, missed opportunities are going to be a theme today.

In looking over Gabriel Marcht’s list of work on the IMDB, I’m surprised by how many things I’ve seen that he was in. He was in The Others? We really liked that show. I knew he was in The Spirit, but it could have been anybody behind that mask. Up until this movie, he was just a nonentity to me.

That’s all that I will say nice about this film: Gabriel Macht is terrific in it. It made me want to watch his current TV show, Suits.

Detroit was a great choice for location. In addition to being the birthplace of Axel Foley (Beverly Hills Cop), it has a very high crime rate and has been badly hit by the economic downturn. A good writer and director could have turned the Detroit Police need for national certification into an important plot thread by talking about how the influx of DHS funds could actually help the city.

Cutler could have come into an under-equipped, under-funded, under-staffed situation where the SWAT team is exhausted by the constant call-outs for violent crime in the city. We could have seen the urban decay of Detroit as a backdrop for the desperation of the citizens, and the love that the police officers have for a community that they cannot save single-handedly.

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Unfortunately, we get everycity in nowheresville, and all the interesting bits get cut out.

Now, this may not have been a wasted opportunity. Every city has a film council, and that office controls shooting locations. It coordinates with the local police for street closures, and collects the fees and taxes for shooting the movie locally. So it’s entirely possible that the Detroit film council forbade showing anything bad about Detroit. While that’s certainly understandable, it does less for the city than shooting a good movie would.

Add to the list of wasted opportunities the rest of the cast. Giancarlo Esposito is terrific, and he knows how to control his performance to highlight other actors in the same scene. He’s a pro, and it shows in everything he’s in.

Gabriel Macht, as I mentioned before, is good.

Carly Pope makes you want to move to Detroit so you can meet other gorgeous, smart, women like her character, Kim Byers.

Robert Patrick is completely typecast here. This is basically the same character he played in The Marine. It’s like they wrote generic Robert Patrick bad guy, and then – surprise! Patrick is perfect for the role. I love Robert Patrick. I thought he was awesome in Terminator 2, and for that matter in Last Resort. Either casting or the writers should have tried something more original.

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All of the other character actors are interchangeable nonentities. None of them has a strong character on the page, and so none of them gets a chance to bring a distinctive presence to the screen. Less money on explosions, more money on the actors.

I’ve said it before and I will repeat it here: Great character actors elevate the movies that they are in. If your movie is weak, get the best supporting cast you can and they can help the audience look past other weaknesses.

Furthermore, none of the action (no matter how well filmed or choreographed) matters. It doesn’t matter because no one learns anything.

This is amazingly important, writers, okay? Your story is about:

  • a character (the SWAT team in this case)
  • in a context (Detroit, dangerous situations, trying to get certified)
  • with a conflict (targeted by a highly trained, well equipped, vengeful psycho).

Your plot flows from how the character deals with the conflict.

The character tries to deal with the conflict, fails, but learns something. Your character tries a second time, fails again, and learns something. Your character tries a third time and this time succeeds because of what he or she learned.

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Well, the SWAT team learns absolutely nothing.

Right from their first interaction with Cutler, they should be learning to look deeper, and to stay on their toes until their targets are turned over to other uniformed officers. They don’t.

Throughout the movie they walk into traps and ambushes because they learn nothing. They are easy targets because the writers (Reed Steiner, Ed Arneson, Randy Walker, and Mike Albanese) let them, and us, down.

In the end, Cutler agrees to certify the bumbling band of idiots because…You know what? I have no idea why. They didn’t save him. They didn’t save any hostages. They didn’t demonstrate any skill or learning. He just throws it at them.

You know what would have been a better closing scene? Cutler dismissing the survivors, telling them to get some rest because certification started at zero-six hundred the next morning. As they walk off, groaning, Inspector Hollander tries to get Cutler to bet against the team.

Hollander: You want to bet against them?

Cutler: No way.

Hollander: Come on, Cutler. I’ll give you odds.

Cutler: No way I am betting against that team.

Hollander: Come on. Five to one…

Fade.

I am not even a professional screenwriter, and THAT is a better ending to the movie, because it shows how much of Cutler’s faith the team earned.

Of course, it would be nice to see them actually do things to earn that faith, but we can’t ask for everything.

Overall

Gabriel Macht is worth watching, but not in this.

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Posted in: Movies