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'S.W.A.T.' remake aims low, misfires at will

If the Hollywood studios had actively conspired to concoct a rebuttal to charges of left-wing media bias, they couldn't have come up with a more grindingly slick answer than "S.W.A.T.," the latest remake of an unmissed 1970s TV show to hit the big screen. "You're either S.W.A.T. or not," says Samuel L. Jackson as Lieutenant Dan "Hondo" Harrelson, leader of the film's team of maverick cops, and since movie critics tend to value little things like wit and finesse, I'm quite happy to say I'm not. Those who love police overkill, guns, jingoistic race-baiting, guns, macho smugness, and guns will be well served.

Veteran TV director Clark Johnson and an elite squad of overpaid screenwriters have jettisoned nearly all the elements of the original 1975-76 ABC series, keeping only the character names and blaring theme song (sung by the cast during a celebratory bar scene). Colin Farrell now broods through the role of officer Jim Street (played in the series by a young Robert Urich), busted down to gun-cleaning duty after he and hair-trigger partner Gamble (Jeremy Renner) go against orders during the opening bank-robbery firestorm. Just in case you had concerns about civil liberties, rest assured that every bad guy in "S.W.A.T." packs enough heavy ordnance to start another war in the Balkans.

Despite the misgivings of image-conscious Captain Fuller (Larry Poindexter), the "old-school" Lieutenant Hondo is called out of temporary retirement to field a new Strategic Weapons and Tactics team. The members are family man Deke (LL Cool J), cynical sharpshooter TJ (Josh Charles), quick-tempered Boxer (Brian Van Holt), and nail-spitting single mom Sanchez (Michelle Rodriguez of "Girlfight"). Street, getting a second chance, rounds out the crew.

And just in time, since an evil French arms merchant and drug trafficker named Alex Montel (Olivier Martinez, the doomed boy toy from "Unfaithful") has been captured in LA and needs transporting to federal prison. En route to a holding tank, Alex announces he'll pay $100 million to anyone who frees him, and the media dutifully relays his job offer around the world. Bad, bad media.

"S.W.A.T." goes out of its way to demonize entire inner-city neighborhoods too, and it pushes the talk-radio buttons with knuckleheaded glee. (Responding to a woman who chastises him for roughing up a suspect, Hondo snickers, "Let's see how liberal you are when he's breaking into your house.") It's a relief when the movie turns into an extended chase sequence in the final third, if only because the explosions drown out the bully-boy rhetoric.

As Alex makes his break with the help of some unexpected accomplices, "S.W.A.T." expertly delivers the porn of modern movie violence, complete with over-the-top climax (a private jet landing on a city bridge) and money shot (a villain gruesomely meeting his end). That this film received a PG-13 and, say, "The Secret Lives of Dentists" got an R should make the ratings board hang its collective head in shame.

One last note: Where lowbrow action movies have traditionally looked to Nazis, Hispanics, and Arabs for stock bad guys, "S.W.A.T." locates the new villainy in . . . the French. "American greed," smirks the suave Alex, "It's so reliable." So is cultural insecurity, apparently. This is the sort of movie where even professing a fondness for champagne is the sign of an effete traitor. The message is clear: If you see your neighbor buying a baguette, dial 911.

Ty Burr can be reached at

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