Movie Review
Assault on Precinct 13


Director: Jean-Francois Richet
Cast: Ethan Hawke, Laurence Fishburne, Gabriel Byrne, John Leguizamo, Maria Bello

et again I find myself dutifully shelling out my money, mechanically marching into a gaping, dark theater to view yet another insipid remake. This time it’s the updated version of John Carpenter’s Assault of Precinct 13 which marks the third time I’ve reviewed a remake for Stylus (see the disappointing Ladykillers and the reprehensible Grudge).

I could go through the same old routine here, framing this newer version against the original and simply pinpointing the moments in which the former outsmarts the latter, but what’s the point? By now we’ve all seen the previews and we all know what to expect. Besides, I hold myself accountable for even being here in the first place. After all, I made a conscious decision to attend the film; the least I could do is give it a fair chance and approach it without reference to the original.

O Captain, My Captain!

However, even confronting Precinct 13 on its own terms, the film still appears stale and lifeless. Strung together with the most transparent of clichés, and littered with ridiculous dialogue, Precinct 13 doesn’t just go through the motions here, it insults the intelligence of even the dimmest audience member unfortunate enough to wander into it.

The film rehashes so many tired formulas that even the burnout teenagers behind me who no doubt came to gawk at the explosions seemed unimpressed with the dismal material. How can I be sure? Well, they felt it necessary to vocalize their reactions to each scene aloud. In another film I might complain, but here their juvenile discourse honestly added a much needed dialogue to the film as well as confirmed my suspicion that Middle America really deserves to be treated with far more respect when it comes to mainstream Hollywood.

The film begins with Detective Jake Roenick (Ethan Hawke) in the middle of an undercover drug bust. The deal goes bad, leaving Jake seriously injured and two other undercover officers dead. Fast forward eight months. Jake now holds a desk job as sergeant of Precinct 13 which is scheduled to close forever at midnight. Most of the officers have already gone home leaving only Jake, Iris (Drea de Matteo) the precinct’s sex-crazed secretary and Jasper (Brian Dennehy), the grizzled old veteran one day (or, more accurately, three hours) away from retirement (Quick. Do you think he gets killed?).

At some point, Jake’s sexy therapist Alex (Maria Bello) arrives to help him deal with the guilt of letting two officers die under his watch. Their session demonstrates that Jake should really consider getting a different therapist as she allows Jake to not only undermine her integrity, but to easily steal his personal file from her purse. The movie consistently presents her as weak and unprofessional, which I might find insulting if the movie showed enough signs of intelligence to suggest that this was intentional and not just a result of ineptitude.

Meanwhile, across town a criminal named Bishop (Laurence Fishburne) has just been arrested. His reputation as a vicious cop killer has earned him fervent hatred from the Detroit Police Department, especially one cop named Marcus Duvall (Gabriel Byrne), whose interest in Bishop already seems a little shady. If you’ve figured out the economic quality of this story, he is either the villain, or an arbitrary side character that is completely irrelevant to this movie. I don’t want to give anything away, so I’ll let you decide.

Bishop briefly meets with his attorney, telling her that he will not survive very long if not released from custody, at which point he is transported elsewhere to await trial. Only there’s this massive blizzard that forces the transport to make a quick stay over at, you guessed it, Precinct 13, where he’ll have to spend the night.

Sorry, dude. This time, Neo's not gonna show up and save you...

The film’s trailer fills in the rest (and actually manages to spoil something that I think was meant to be a surprise). An armed group of men want Bishop dead. There’s a siege at the precinct. Lots of people die. Lots of things explode. Oh, and Ja Rule and John Leguizamo form an unlikely bond.

I suppose as usual I’m asking too much of a film that never claimed to have anything other than surface appeal. Still, one can’t help feel that much of the film represents a wasted opportunity for character development. I could’ve used just a trace of interesting dialogue or at least something more than a bunch of people yelling at each other.

Ethan Hawke puts in a particularly disappointing performance, mostly because the last film I saw him in was the sublime Before Sunset. He doesn’t fit the action hero mold in the same way John Travolta will never make a convincing villain.

Kudos, however, to Leguizamo, who demonstrates the even the role of a paranoid junkie can still feature the same shrill comic tone that he poured into such memorable characters as the Clown (Spawn) and Pestario “the Pest” Vargas (the Pest). Maybe that’s unfair since Leguizamo’s character seems as if he were meant to be somewhat irritating. Then again, there’s a difference between a character being irritating to other characters within the screenplay and a character who continually emerges from the screen to slap the viewer in the face. This movie is full of these types, often piled into the same room together, and all prepared to assault your imagination.

Alas, Precinct 13 is sort of like being trapped at a very boring party with a bunch of shallow, insecure people with nothing much to say, or at least nothing noteworthy. Only at this party, they’re all brandishing guns and every once in awhile one of them dies. Thank God for small favors.

By: Dave Micevic

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