SWAT: Firefight (2011) / Action-Thriller

MPAA Rated: R for violence and language
Running time:
88 min.

Cast: Gabriel Macht, Robert Patrick, Carly Pope, Nicholas Gonzalez, Giancarlo Esposito, Shannon Kane, Micah A. Hauptman, Matt Bushell, Gino Anthony Pesi, Kristanna Loken
Director: Benny Boom
Screenplay: Reed Steiner

Gabriel Macht (The Spirit, The Good Shepherd) plays Los Angeles hot-shot S.W.A.T. cop Paul Cutler, who travels to Detroit to work as a special consultant to their own S.W.A.T. team's training to be certified.  The new team is none too impressed with Cutler's methods and give him a hard time back, but when it comes time to the real mission, they pull together.  However, threatening to break them up, and in a permanent way, is Walter Hatch (Patrick, The Men Who Stare at Goats), a crack-pot government operative who makes it his vendetta to ruin Cutler's life, if not take it out altogether, when his new S.W.A.T. team allows his beloved "girlfriend" (Loken, In the Name of the King), whom he had been holding hostage, to kill herself during the rescue mission.

SWAT: FIrefight is an in-name-only, straight-to-video sequel to 2003's minor hit, S.W.A.T., which had been one of my big guilty pleasures in the action department, and itself an in-name-only sequel (of sorts) to a TV show from the mid-1970s.  Like many DTV sequels, it plays mostly as a remake featuring lesser production values, more obscure actors, and a director just starting to cut his chops in the business.  In this instance, that director comes from the world of rap videos, Benny Boom (Next Day Air), who utilizes shaky cams, quick cuts, and montages of pimped out homes and vehicles as if they deserve the hip-hop accompaniment they get on the soundtrack.

One can only wonder why a major city would need to import a consultant in to train their officers, and what makes this particular one so special, which the script by Reed Steiner ("NCIS", "Nash Bridges") never quite delves into.  What we do know is that within a couple of days of training his S.W.A.T. unit, they lose their hostage, they see the culprit beat the rap, and within a few days after that, the entire unit is on the verge of possible extinction.  They don't follow basic procedure, and why should they when their trainer doesn't either.  Not only should this guy's consulting fees be waived, he should have to undergo additional training himself, preferably from someone who isn't so obviously inept.  And he's the least likeable character in the film (and I'm counting the villain), so when it comes down to the climax, you're likely to be indifferent to the result.

Despite the kind of low-reaching third-tier movie that the creators aim to be, SWAT: Firefight is watchable most of the way, despite some substantial weaknesses in its story and character development, thanks to the basic formula of injecting the training sessions and snarky camaraderie that made the first film so fun.  The film jumps the proverbial shark once Hatch begins to play a more prominent part in the film's climax, as his one-man retribution to avenge the object of his obsession's death is both grossly underdeveloped in its set-up and executed without any conviction to baseline plausibility. 

The action scenes occur at regular intervals, and though Boom attempts to inject some sense of style to what would otherwise be very routine, these stylistic touches are trite and uninspired.  Watch the SWAT crew walk in slo-mo bad-ass fashion after a kick-ass training session.  See a sniper's bullet slowly turn in slo-mo as it nears its glorified, blood-splattering head shot. See first-person shooter, POV video-game-style armed assaults.  Given the low budget, Boom plays it all very conservative, saving the film's one sole big explosion for the finale, in a scene so laughable it makes you feel guilty for even bothering to follow the lukewarm antics of the previous hour.

Like its predecessor, the film is mostly training scenes for the first half before the real mission kicks into high gear.  Unfortunately, whereas S.W.A.T. had tied in the two halves by having some of the good guys become bad guys by the end of the film, in Firefight, there really isn't much to thematically join the various story angles.  What were mildly twisty turns of events become blatantly obvious ambushes and booby-traps.  Then you have to ask yourself what the purpose of showing all of these training scenes are when the men and women of the unit, including their highly-paid trainer, forget just about every basic training maneuver to the point of catastrophe.  In the middle of all of this emerges a quickie, very unconvincing romance between Paul and the mini-skirted cock-tease staff psychologist (who might as well be wearing a t-shirt that says, "Finale Hostage"), which only serves as a plot device and doesn't do anything to make Paul more sympathetic or Hatch more menacing.

Shot with digital cameras, S.W.A.T. Firefight looks cheap, plays cheaper, and wouldn't really have made much of an impact as the pilot episode of a potential television series.  The only moments the film comes to life is when the team waves their proverbial dicks around during the sometimes-ridiculous training sessions around Detroit (It's no wonder that real-life denizens of Detroit would like to erect a statue of RoboCop, if this is indicative of their actual police force).  Without the star power, humor value, or comic book energy of the theatrically released first entry, there's not much here to entertain anyone looking for much more than a low-octane, fast-food actioner.

- Trivia:  S.W.A.T.: Firefight casts two of the portrayers of the evil Terminators as a couple, as Robert Patrick infamously appears as the T-1000 in T2 while Loken, who is barely in the film for one scene, plays the T-X in T3.

 Qwipster's rating

2011 Vince Leo