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The Television Balcony - S.W.A.T.: Firefight

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Count me as one of the people that enjoyed 2003's S.W.A.T. It's one of my favorite action movies - fun, entertaining, and I can't argue with any project that involves Clark Johnson, Josh Charles and Jeremy Renner. When I heard there was going to be a sequel - and that sequel was going to co-star Robert Patrick, whom I've been a fan of for the last twenty years? Even though I knew it was a sequel in name only, I still figured it could match the standard of being a worthwhile action flick.

I was wrong. It's one of those movies that I've seen once and, while I'm not rushing outside to set it on fire, I don't really need to see it again.

Firefight moves the action to Detroit, where a hotshot LAPD expert (Gabriel Macht) is sent to straighten out the local team (of which the biggest name is The O.C.'s Nicholas Gonzalez). We go through the usual training scenes before the squad is sent out on an apparent domestic dispute - we're never actually told the specifics of the problem - that predictably goes haywire. They take Walter Hatch (Patrick) into custody, only to have his distraught companion (Terminator 3's Kristanna Loken) blow her brains out when Cutler refuses her repeated requests to kill him instead. Walter is incredibly ticked about this, and decides that he's going to get revenge. Fairly straightforward, in terms of action movie premises.

In fact, a lot of Firefight is paint by numbers, especially the characters. There's the cranky boss resistant to change (Giancarlo Esposito), the cocky team member who doesn't like the new guy (Gonzalez), the female addition (All My Children's Shannon Kane), and Cutler's love interest (Carly Pope, as a Detroit shrink), who tells him that she's not going to sleep with him and then immediately does so anyway. All the characters are predictable, even the two leads. Cutler is, by and large, a rehash of the Jim Street character from the 2003 film - he's a handsome guy who's clearly smarter than anyone else in the film, who mouths off to his boss and whose now ex-girlfriend only shows up to remind us why she's dumped him. I liked Macht's work in a little film called Archangel, and it's not his fault that he's unremarkable when he's stuck in a role that could've been played by a dozen other clean-cut thirtysomething actors.

As Hatch, who's never fully developed and so we never understand why he's a psychopath (other than that, predictably, he is some sort of government spook, which we learn only near the film's end), Patrick is basically reprising his role from The Marine, only without the humor - which makes him just another B-movie villain, down to dressing in nearly all black and smoking a huge cigar as if it's supposed to make him cooler. I've seen much better work from Patrick, but again, there's only so much he can do. And he and Macht make out better than the majority of the cast, who are barely distinguishable from each other. At least in Patrick's case, this is an instance of "good actor in a bad movie."

With weak characters, the plot almost doesn't stand a chance, but it's not without its gaping flaws as well. There are a lot of things in this movie that either aren't explained or don't make sense, including the majority of the setup. When we meet our bad guy, we have no idea what the heck is going on, because it's just a few minutes of histrionics, with the female character telling us that we don't know who Walter is. What are they fighting over? Why is she so important to him? Well, you never get an answer to that first part, and the second only comes near the end of the film, along with finally telling us that Hatch works for the government. That information would have been useful about an hour earlier. Instead, we're just wondering what's up with this crazy guy out to avenge his apparent girlfriend's suicide. (It would've made more sense if she'd been accidentally killed by Cutler, instead of him just being held responsible since he wasn't able to talk her out of it.) These huge questions aren't helped by the fact that there's not much to distract us from them. The film is painfully short at 86 minutes (less than an hour and a half), but even as it tries to introduce some fairly standard action sequences along the way, there's just not a lot of suspense built up, and you know where it's all going to lead.

Then there are the flaws that aren't crucial to the plot, but are just as aggravating. In the beginning of the film, we see Cutler turn down his flirtatious ex-girlfriend's offer of a one-night stand, yet he later gets into bed with his new love interest on the first date. That doesn't add up. There's the usual ribbing of Kane's character once she arrives on the scene, which is very much "been there, done that." Have none of these guys ever worked with a female police officer in their careers? Do we really need a bombastic rock soundtrack and slo-mo when the team strides onto the scene? (At least the first flick had that great song entitled, appropriately, "Samuel Jackson.") And then there's purely nitpicking: why do I need an entire special features menu when there's one special feature on the disc? I don't necessarily need everything spelled out for me, but I would like to be able to understand what I'm watching. I'll just say that it's not a good sign when said featurette involves one of the actors asking the director for an explanation as to why his character is doing something. If they don't get it, chances are, we won't either. And we don't.

In that making-of on the disc, director Benny Boom (really, that's his name) says that this is a very different film from the original S.W.A.T. He's right. The first film wasn't classic, but it was good. This one defines the phrase "direct-to-video attempt at a sequel." While it's not the worst movie I've ever seen, I'll be the first to admit that I got my hopes up much farther than it delivered. I think I'll stick with the original.

For more big-screen exploits of small-screen stars, check out The Television Balcony archives at my blog,

Brittany Frederick

Twitter: @tvbrittanyf

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