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Assault on Precinct 13 (A Movie Review)

Assault on Precinct 13

Assault on Precinct 13


Starring Ethan Hawke, Laurence Fishburne, John Leguizamo, Maria Bello, Jeffrey “Ja Rule” Atkins, Drea DeMateo, Matt Craven, Gabriel Byrne, Brian Dennehy, Kim Coates, Dorian Harewood, Currie Graham, Titus Welliver, Aisha Hinds, Peter Bryant and Fulivio Cicere.

Screenplay by James DeMonaco.

Directed by Jean-François Richet.

Distributed by Rogue Pictures.  109 minutes.  Rated R.

John Carpenter was still a pretty unknown writer and director when he released a modest film in 1976 called Assault on Precinct 13.  He had made a pretty well-respected but overlooked little science fiction film called Dark Star a couple of years before, but he was still two years away from his breakthrough horror film Halloween.  But this middle film was the epitome of tight-budgeted B-film making.  It was a modernization of Howard Hawk’s Rio Bravoin which a group of lawmen and criminals must band together to fight off a mysterious gang that has placed them under siege.  There was a cast of unknowns who stayed unknown (the star was the long forgotten journeyman Austin Stoker and the only other actors there is even a chance that you’ve heard of in the cast are character actors Tony Burton and Charles Cyphers and former child star Kim Richards.)  Assault on Precinct 13 eventually became a bit of a cult favorite — it was pretty much ignored in the theaters but it caught the public’s attention when it was played over and over in the early years of HBO.

Twenty-nine years later comes this remake, which adds on the star-power, spends more money on the sets and the effects and deepens the plot (the bad guys are no longer anonymous embodiments of evil, now we know exactly who they are, even if we may have a hard time believing it.).  Do these improvements make the story better?  No, the original is still a better film, but this film is an effective thriller for the most part, nonetheless.

Ethan Hawke (leaving behind the thoughtful drama of Before Sunset and returning to his Training Day adventure mode) plays Jake Roenick, a decorated undercover cop who lost his nerve when a drug sting goes bad and costs the life of his two partners.  He takes an office job as night Captain of one of Detroit’s worst precincts, where he can drink and pop pills in peace and not really worry about the danger of the streets.

It is New Years Eve and the precinct is set to be demolished the next day.  Detroit is being hit by a whopper of a snowstorm and the place only has a skeleton staff, a couple of cops (Brian Dennehy and Matt Craven), a horny secretary (Drea DeMatteo) and Roenick’s police shrink (Maria Bello) who is stranded there by the storm.  All expect a quiet night until a bus which is transporting some convicts has to come in to the station to get off the dangerous roads.

The group is made up of two cops (Dorian Harewood and Kim Coates) and some petty criminals (played by John Leguizamo, rapper Ja Rule and Aisha Hinds).  What they didn’t count on was that on that bus was Marion Bishop (Laurence Fishburne), a legendary local organized crime figure.  Soon after midnight, the cops find that their house is being attacked by some bad cops led by Gabriel Byrne.  This leads to a series of scary and claustrophobic scenes in which the good guys have to join an uneasy truce with the convicts to fight off the attacking hordes.

However, even the most sympathetic viewer can’t overlook some truly huge plot holes on display here.  For example, the convicts are forced to stop at Precinct 13 and the building is totally cut off because the city is suffering through the worst snow storm in years.  Problem is, when they are attacked, despite the wildly blowing snow, the parking lot has maybe an inch or two on the ground.  People can walk around in the extreme cold in just light coats (and in the cases of the women, a slinky evening gown and a micro-mini skirt.)  Also, even though Precinct 13 is smack dab in the middle of the ghettos of Detroit, the final scenes take place in a forest that just a couple of blocks away.  Granted, I don’t know Detroit all that well, but I think I would have heard if there was a forest in the middle of the city.  Not to mention that dozens of the bad guy cops go out and get themselves killed so that they won’t have to go to jail.  Granted, neither is a good option, and at least at first they probably thought it was unlikely that they would die.  Still, when the bodies started piling up, you can’t help but think that if you had to choose most people would rather go to jail than die.  I know that you don’t go to adventure movies for their logic, but still that sounds like sloppy filmmaking.

The plot holes don’t ruin the movie, they just temper the enjoyment.  If you take it on its own terms, the new version of Assault on Precinct 13 has enough scares and thrills to make it worth seeing.  Just don’t think about it too much.  (1/05)

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2005  All rights reserved.Posted: May 5, 2005.

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