Assault on Precinct 13 (2005) / Action-Thriller

MPAA Rated: R for strong language, strong violence, and some drug content
Running Time: 109 min.

Cast: Ethan Hawke, Laurence Fishburne, Brian Dennehy, Gabriel Byrne, Drea de Matteo, John Leguizamo, Maria Bello, Ja Rule, Aisha Hinds, Matt Craven, Currie Graham
Director: Jean-Francois Richet
Screenplay: James DeMonaco
Review published January 23, 2005

Assault on Precinct 13 is a remake of the cult classic John Carpenter film of the same name of 1976, offering several key twists to the story, and ratcheting up the graphic violence and language for today's less discriminating audiences.  Both are loosely based on the classic John Wayne flick, Rio Bravo, so if it seems redundant twice over, there's a very good reason. 

Ethan Hawke (Before Sunrise, Taking Lives) stars as Detroit police officer, Sgt. Jake Roenick, who has spent the last few months as a pencil pusher in his now-closing precinct after a drug bust gone bad, which saw the deaths of two fellow officers.  With most of the force gone, Jake finds himself in command when a busload of criminals are forced into the precinct's jail to stay on New Years Eve due to a vicious snowstorm.  One of these prisoners includes notorious cop-killer Marion Bishop (Fishburne, The Matrix Revolutions), who becomes a magnet for a mysterious group of deadly gun-toting fiends who want him released, putting the precinct under siege.  It turns out these other bad guys are really corrupt cops out to take down Bishop before he can rat them out, putting cop against cop in a battle to the death.

This updated Assault does feature more credible actors than the original film, and better production values, but it never really transcends its b-movie origins to become a top-notch action vehicle.  It is a very conventional plot, and even with a few twists and turns, there are very few real surprises to be had, as nearly every cliché in the book comes to fruition before the end credits roll.  It doesn't always make sense (at least not to me), since the corrupt cops shouldn't have such a difficult time with all their firepower overtaking the precinct.  Since they have resolved to kill everyone inside, smoking them out just never occurs to them, as they would rather take potshots from long distances.  Some of their modus operandi truly boggles the mind.  For instance, take a scene where two of the characters try to make an escape in a hotwired vehicle, only to be surprised by a third passenger in the back seat out to kill them.  Why does he wait several minutes while the car is being hotwired and for the car to go into fast motion before striking?  I guess so we can have that ultra-cool car crash that results.  Yes, this one's going for style points wherever it can.

Richet's direction keeps the action plentiful and stylish, while the very capable cast do make this leaden plot seem better than it is.  Sadly, that's not really enough to elevate this pedestrian rehash into anything more than a passable escapist popcorn flick, as easy to watch as it is easy to forget. 

Qwipster's rating:

©2005 Vince Leo