Monday, August 13, 2018

S.W.A.T.: Under Siege (2017)

Swat under siege poster


When the Drug War Hits Home… the Tables are Turned.

Movie Review:

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I’ve not bothered watching the first two SWAT films yet. The first was a big budget cinema release with Samuel Jackson, Colin Farrel and Michele Rodriguez. The second, S.W.A.T.: Firefight has Robert Patrick in it. This is the third film, Under Siege - not released to the Steven Seagal film, though I wouldn’t have objected to Sensei Seagal showing up to sit in a chair and eat a carrot in this one either.

It’s the Fourth of July and Travis Hall (Sam Jaeger) is woken on his day off to go on an important mission. With his team assembled and some DEA guys in tow, our SWAT guys and girls go to the docks to intercept a shipping container of stolen contraband. But the straight forward, walk in walk out operation is not as promised, with bad guys aplenty trying to take the team out. A man is downed and a huge explosion from a missile launcher takes out a few more. And the plot thickens more when the contents of the shipping container was not drugs and weapons, it was a man strung up by his arms with torture equipment beside him. Returning out mystery guy to the SWAT compound, he goes only by the name Scorpion (Michael Jai White) and he promises that the FBI agents coming to get him for the billion dollar secrets he has in his head will not be real FBI agents. Surely enough he is correct and Travis has to fight them off, but that’s not all the returned team have to worry about with the private army of rich terrorist Lars Cohagen (Matthew Marsden) at their doors demanding they release the Scorpion to them, or face a final assault.

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This wasn’t too bad for an Assault on Precinct 13 direct-to-video riff. Pretty decent action overall, though it did have some issues. Positive things first; I quite liked Sam Jaeger as Travis Hall. He was believable as the leader of an elite team of soldiers and had an imposing enough physique to pass muster. Perhaps not quite John Cena in The Marine, but maybe an older Mike Mizanin from The Marine 3-5. That’s probably way off the mark but you might get where I am going with this. He gets pissed and swears at the Inspector about not using her gut instinct, notices when fake FBI guys are carrying the wrong sidearm, and never gets wounded in action. He’s a family man and just wants to get the job done and celebrate the holiday. I like Travis.

Jai White isn’t top billing but he has a lot of screen time. It’s not bait-and-switch territory here thankfully. His character of Scorpion is played cool, a bit like a black ops version of Morpheus. He speaks monotone with little emotion, almost robotic in delivery, arching back to his early days in Universal Soldier: The Return (tangent - I’d pay to see Jai White as a Terminator) though thankfully this little DTV action film is miles more entertaining than that thing. Scorpion is the character we feel most invested in as his backstory is not clear and never fully revealed. At any moment he could turn on the team, and that plays as an advantage to the film. We also get two really solid, classic Jai White multi-guy beatdowns similar to the street fights he has in Blood & Bone. People just lining up to get smashed!

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The action is genuine and pretty consistent with only moments of regrouping and rethinking strategy. Being SWAT it’s mainly machine gun battles, though there’s a few bonuses like snipers on rooftops and a dude with a missile launcher. The best weapon to show up was a Predator-style mini-gun and it wrecks the havoc you expect it would. Great stuff. Other than guns, we get a few fist fights, the aforementioned martial arts fights from Jai White, some one-on-one knife fights and beatdowns and a whole lot of stealthy around corners looking through sights and making military hand gestures. So we aren’t let down in the all important action department. The plot also advances with a few "can we trust him/who is the mole” points, one of which did keep me guessing until the end, so that’s a positive.

Adrianne Palicki (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) as Ellen Dwyer is okay, though I didn’t really buy her as the chief Inspector of this newly commissioned compound. Her character seemed too wet behind the ears for such a role. Traditionally we’d have had a grizzled Captain in this role, chewing a cigar and complaining that he was three days from retirement. Or a no-shit-taking, genuinely imposing officer like Callahan from Police Academy. I found it a bit hard to believe the team would take orders from her. That’s not to say she’s redundant; she holds her own with a weapon and holds her own in the fights, she just doesn’t seem commanding material.

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And then there’s our Big Bad, the international terrorist Lars Cohagen, probably one of the weakest top bosses I’ve seen in recent years next to the guy in the Robocop reboot. His private jet and his lavender shirt don’t convince me, nor does his supposedly imposing and threatening demeanour that allows him to control his computer hacker associate. That’s not to say Marsden is not good at bad-assery (check him out leading the post-apocalyptic film Bounty Killer), this part was just not suited to him. I also got no sense of scale for his organisation; it’s just him, the perpetually smirking sidekick Simone (Monique Ganderton) and a contracted keyboard warrior that does his bidding. Of course he has a bunch of hired soldiers in polished black SUVs, but they never feel like they are “his” if you follow me. 

The other minor quibble I had with the film: everyone is too pretty. Now don’t laugh, but when I want to see SWAT guys and girls kicking arse I don’t want them to look like they’ve come out of a Pantene commercial. Slight exaggeration maybe, but the team of Chu, Hooks, York, Phoenix etc. don’t look like they’ve seen a day of combat in their lives, which is not what I want from supposedly “the baddest motherfuckers on Earth”, as Travis calls them in a pep talk. Some of them live, some of them die, but you aren’t ever really sold on them. They aren’t made from the same stuff as Frost, Hicks and Vasquez from Aliens, that’s for sure. I wish I had more to say about them but.. I really don’t. With the possible exception of Jefferson - she is a little bit of a badass and takes no crap with her shotgun “Not on my watch, motherfucker!".

Our IT guys on both sides look like cliche IT guys (one bearded and bigger, and one that looks like he hasn’t seen sun in a year and lives off instant noodles, both able to hack the planet). Why would such a small SWAT Training compound of a handful of members and a lead Inspector warrant a full time IT guy with the system setup he has anyway?  

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It may sound like I’m being negative towards the film. It was one of those films I can pick apart the pieces but when stuck back together I can still have a good time, with a couple of genuine “Hah! Awesome” out loud moments as a bonus. Jaeger was solid as our main SWAT dude Travis and Jai White was great as usual. It moved swiftly at under 90 minutes, has bloody squibs (though mostly CG) and has no prior knowledge requirements from the previous two films in the franchise before going in. Worth a watch, just don’t pay top dollar.

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Pinned down in the corridors of the complex, the team are about to get it from six combatant soldiers when Jai White appears with a minigun, says “Duck.” and takes the whole lot out with a satisfying grin on his face.