Assault on Precinct 13 is a jazzed-up, pared-down, action-packed remake of the 1976 John Carpenter film of the same title, which itself borrowed the premise of Howard Hawks’ 1959 gem Rio Bravo. The new film, the American debut of French director Jean-François Richet, takes only the basic concept and a few winking references from Carpenter’s movie, recasting the story in a more contemporary action-film style, full of twists and reversals.
Ethan Hawke is Sergeant Jake Roenick, formerly an undercover narcotics officer. A drug deal gone bad has killed two cops under his command, and now, eight months later, Roenick is still recovering from the physical and emotional wounds he received. It’s New Year’s Eve 2004, and Roenick, grizzled veteran Jasper O’Shea (Brian Dennehy), and a secretary, Iris Ferry (Drea de Matteo), are the only inhabitants of Detroit’s Precinct 13, a run down building in an industrial area due to be formally shut down as of midnight, after which they will begin working at shiny new Precinct 21. With the jail cleared out and the phones diverted to the new precinct house, they’re expecting a peaceful New Year’s celebration. But surprise — heavy snow has caused an accident on the highway, forcing a prison bus to detour and hole up there until morning. The bus contains two cops: Gil (Dorian Harewood) and Rosen (Kim Coates), and four criminals: Marion Bishop (Laurence Fishburne), Beck (John Leguizamo), Anna (Aisha Hinds), and Smiley (Ja Rule). Then, apparently because the filmmakers felt de Matteo was an insufficient source of sexy girl-flesh, up pops Roenick’s police-assigned psychologist, Alex Sabian (Maria Bello). When a faceless army of armed men shows up to try to kill Bishop, the precinct house is under siege, requiring cops and criminals to unite, and only those with the box-office power to open a film are ensured their survival.
Hawke is a little hard to swallow at first as a police sergeant and former Marine, but he seems to grow into the role over time, and the rest of the cast mostly do what they usually do: de Matteo is sexy and naughty; Dennehy is crusty but likable; Fishburne is a glowering, taciturn badass; etc. Assault on Precinct 13 is structured and visualized with the intention of keeping the violence and peril coming at us steadily so that we always feel a little off-kilter. Robert Gantz’s cinematography is dark, sleek, and occasionally hypnotic; Bill Pankow’s editing is hectic in a way that intensifies our anxiety. The film dabbles in themes of honor, trust, and self-sacrifice, but really it’s just a machine built for suspense and excitement, and on those terms it’s successful.
Jeremy C. Fox is a founding critic of Pajiba and a member of the Online Film Critics Society.You may email him at jeremycfox[at]gmail.com.
Assault on Precinct 13 / Jeremy C. Fox
Film | May 12, 2006 | Comments ()