Review by Mark Walters

It's easy for me to say I'm a fan of John Carpenter.  As a director he has done some very memorable films.  Whether it's horror, or just social commentary, Carpenter knows how to make a statement with his work.  Now I must admit, his efforts in the last 15 years have been less than perfect, but the early films still leave a lasting impression.  One of my favorite JC movies is one that is lesser known by most.  ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 came out in 1976, and was his first widely released film, predating HALLOWEEN by two years.  What makes Carpenter's PRECINCT great is it's simplicity, and undeniable tension created by the situation the characters end up in.  In many ways that film is where John proved himself a master of horror, despite the fact it's not intended to be a horror film.  Some people even make a comparison to the zombie film genre when discussing it.  Now I'm already not a big fan of remakes, and there are some films out there that just don't need to be updated, at least in my opinion.  So when I heard ASSAULT was being redone, I wasn't very excited.  But these are the days of sequels and remakes.  Hollywood is out of original ideas.  Everything new is just a variation on something old.  So bearing that in mind, Rogue Pictures has released a new ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13, starring Ethan Hawke and Laurence Fishburne.

The movie opens with undercover cop Jake Roenick (Ethan Hawke) trying to complete a deal with some rather shady characters.  When one of his undercover partners is recognized, the deal goes bad.  Really bad.  Cut to eight months later.  Roenick is working desk duty as a Sergeant in a police precinct.  It's New Year's Eve, and this particular building, Precinct 13, is about to be shut down.  Jake still hasn't let go of the emotional scarring left from his botched undercover job, and even sees a lovely psychiatrist (Maria Bello) on a regular basis to deal with his feelings.  On this final night at the precinct, it looks as if Jake will celebrating fairly low-key with the sex-crazed secretary (Drea de Matteo) and the resident veteran cop Jasper (Brian Dennehy).  Across town the city's most notorious gangster, Marion Bishop (Laurence Fishburne), gets caught by police after murdering an undercover cop... in a church of all places!  With ice and snow making the roads impossible to navigate, the police transport carrying Bishop and others is ordered to drop their prisoners at the closest precinct, which of course is Precinct 13.  What is meant to be a temporary stop turns pretty permanent, when an army of crooked cops show up trying desperately to take out Bishop.  Apparently they can't afford to let him live, since he can blow the whistle on their dirty deals.  Led by a sadistic man named Marcus Duvall (Gabriel Byrne), this squad is heavily armed, and prepared to take out everyone in the building to accomplish their goal.  So now the unsuspecting inhabitants of Precinct 13 must make a stand in order to stay alive.  Sergeant Roenick even arms the criminals, since he needs all the help he can get.

The original film was nowhere near as complicated with it's plot.  The surviving elements are bad guys surrounding a shut down police station, and cops working with prisoners to try and stay alive.  That's pretty much it.  This new film makes things a bit more interesting.  The two main characters, played by Hawke and Fishburne, are given much more interesting back stories.  They're not random men thrown into a crappy situation, but rather tortured souls who must draw on their own instincts to stay alive.  I'm pretty impressed with what they did here.  Don't get me wrong, it's still essentially just an action flick, but it's done pretty nicely.  Hawke plays a very flawed hero, which to me is the best kind.  He's got emotional problems, disturbing memories, and personal feelings that affect his communication with others.  Fishburne is basically a total bad-ass gangster, but even he has enough character layers to keep things interesting.  Some of the supporting cast isn't used quite as well.  John Leguizamo, Ja Rule, and Aisha Hinds play the other prisoners caught up in this nightmare situation.  They're a nice contrast to the cool-headed Fishburne, but sometimes they just don't seem to work.  Leguizamo is trying REALLY hard to be funny and quirky here, and it kind of gets annoying after a while.  Maria Bello gets some nice moments, as a psychiatrist with plenty of her own problems, which come out when things get crazy.  Gabriel Byrne is somewhat wasted.  He's good at being bad, and has one or two moments of truly brilliant evil.  Unfortunately he's used fairly little.  It's understandable that the focus is the people in the station, but I could've used a bit more of the bad guy, or at least maybe a bit more back story on him.  I really liked the fact that this movie is hardcore with it's violence.  When people get shot, they get shot graphically.  If someone gets stabbed, it's intense.  There's more than a couple of scenes of very intense violence, and it works.  Films like these shouldn't pull punches, and this one doesn't.  There are a few nice twists too.  Perhaps the only weak area is the ending, which kind of drags on a bit, and tries too hard to leave things open for a sequel.  Aside from that the film is pretty entertaining.  The director, Jean-François Richet, handles the action very well, and gives us some consistently cool shots no matter what the scene may be.  It's his first American film, and he's certainly proven himself a competent action director here.  Trying to compare the quality of this with Carpenter's film isn't really feasible.  They're too different.  But that's not a bad thing.  If you're going to remake a movie, at least put a new spin on it.  There are a handful of moments that can easily be called direct nods to the original, but for the most part we're treated to something pretty fresh.  Overall it's a nice update.  Aside from a few flaws, I rather enjoyed it.  If you like action movies, this is worth taking a look at. score - On a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being the best, I give ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 a 7.


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