Unfairly disgraced cop Jim Street is given the chance to redeem himself by joining an elite S.W.A.T. unit, headed up by hard-ass veteran Hondo Harrelson. Their first assignment: to keep an international drug kingpin in custody after he has publicly offered a cash reward for his breakout.
Even when he's not dropping his trousers for the amusement of his co-stars on the set of Alexander, Colin Farrell knows how to keep busy. 'S.W.A.T.' marks his sixth big screen release of 2003 (after Daredevil, The Recruit, Phone Booth, Veronica Guerin and Intermission) - entire continents have less of a cinema presence than he does.
Needless to say, the quality of his choices has been inconsistent, although Farrell can usually be relied upon to bring a spark to the bonfire. That's also true of 'S.W.A.T.', which has its roots in a little-known TV series from the 1970s and, after a get-the-team-together opening salvo, settles down into a story that's virtually episode-length in scope and running time.
All of the character shading has to fall into that early section and, even then, only Farrell and Jackson are offered adequate screen space to develop the bare bones of their stereotypes (the good cop misunderstood by his fellow officers, the anti-authority veteran who gets results). Elsewhere, Michelle Rodriguez and LL Cool J are 'female cop' and 'family cop' respectively.
As Farrell drives Jackson around recruiting members for the team, the Irishman provides the older actor with his best verbal sparring partner since John Travolta in 'Pulp Fiction'. It's a welcome comedy interlude sandwiched between action sequences, and we could have done with a bit more, especially when such frivolity is sidelined and the serious task of finding a plot takes over.
The style change at this halfway point is tangible. In comes Elliot Goldenthal's score; out goes the jukebox selection of loud songs (from Jimi Hendrix to Linkin Park) that helped create the rockin' good mood. No longer is the banter light and funny; now it's time to knuckle down with a scowl and judge who in the team can be trusted with your life. Formula is now the name of the game, although a steady diet of stunts and shootouts ensures that the audience is never bored.
The budget and stars come from a higher dimension, but this could be a pilot for a TV show. Solidly entertaining without being spectacular.