Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (February 17, 2011)
While the average direct-to-video sequel follows its predecessor pretty rapidly, this didn’t happen with the SWAT franchise. The original movie came out back in 2003, but SWAT: Firefight didn’t emerge until 2011 – and without virtually anyone associated with the first flick. That's not a great recipe for success, but I thought I’d give Firefight a look anyway.
LAPD Sgt. Paul Cutler (Gabriel Macht) gets sent to Detroit and help train their SWAT team. He doesn’t view this as a peach of an assignment, but when given inducements, he heads to the Motor City. There he finds a less than tight SWAT squad – and resistance to his presence. Placed in charge of the team, he attempts to whip them into shape.
When they go out on a hostage call, the situation goes seriously awry. Walter Hatch (Robert Patrick) ends up in custody, but that’s not enough for his hostage (Kristanna Loken); she demands his death, and when the cops won’t allow her to shoot him, she kills herself. Hatch blames Cutler for her death and plans his revenge. Cutler must deal with this threat while he still attempts to prep his team for certification.
When I go into a movie based on a TV series, I don’t expect much. When I go into a direct-to-video movie based on a movie based on TV series, I expect even less. Heck, that bar’s set so low that I’m amazed if the resulting flick is in focus.
Which makes Firefight a pleasant surprise. I thought the 2003 flick was a disappointment; while I like action movies, it seemed like an uninspired Michael Bay wannabe without anything to elevate itself above mediocrity.
At no point does Firefight approach greatness, but I don’t think it aspires to be much more than what it is: a moderately good little cop flick. I think the filmmakers understand what they’re being asked to do, and they manage to create a movie with some occasional senses of spirit and freshness.
Some of that stems from the plot. On the surface, Firefight offers Speed without the bus: it gives us a vengeance-minded baddie who screws with a cop for his own purposes. That’s not the most creative concept, but Firefight uses it for some twists. The film doesn’t go down consistently predictable paths, so it delivers an intriguing ride.
The film also doesn’t seem to take itself too seriously. All involved know this isn’t Hamlet; it knows that it traffics in clichés and doesn’t pretend that it plans to reinvent any wheels. How can I dislike a movie that casts a former Terminator as a stalker – and another one-time Terminator as the object of his obsessive desire?
I think the actors help make the material enjoyable. In particular, Macht provides a good leading man. He delivers the expected heroic sensibility but he also portrays a believable sense of weakness. He and the others manage to deliver some hackneyed lines in a manner that improves them; the dialogue still seems awkward, but the performances blunt their clunkiness.
On the negative side, Firefight embraces a few of the usual cop flick clichés, and director Benny Boom can’t resist camera gimmicks. He occasionally goes for a first-person-shooter style that made sense in Doom but just irritates anywhere else. Boom also gets into Michael Bay ever-spinning camera mode too often; the movie would work better with less hyperactive visuals.
Firefight also comes with a bizarre opening sequence. In a prologue that introduces Cutler, he takes the LA SWAT team to a hostage situation. A rich frat boy sort owes a drug dealer money; the latter and his gang enter the former’s house and hold various partygoers until…
Well, I’m not sure. I guess they want their money, but they allow the frat boy to call the cops and tell them to “shoot these dicks”. The drug lord doesn’t seem to mind this, and he also gives the frat boy a gun! He drops the weapon as soon as the cops enter, and the drug lord barely puts up a fight. It’s a really strange scene that seems to be missing some footage that might allow it to make more sense.
Still, I think SWAT: Firefight achieves its modest goals and works much better than the average direct-to-video epic. It provides a fairly entertaining cop flick that I actually like more than the original SWAT. Firefight won’t win any awards, but fans of this sort of police movie will probably enjoy it.