"Well we're secure now." — Jasper,
after closing the blinds
Some classics don't need to be remade — films like The
Day the Earth Stood Still, Casablanca and The
Time Machine. Then there are films that, while they may
have been average or downright bad, had a core concept that
deserves a do-over.
The original Assault on
Precinct 13 is a decent, low-budget, straightforward
action movie. It has a fair, if simple, plot, but its low budget,
thin characters and cardboard villains leave it open for reinterpretation.
Jean-Francois Richet's remake takes the basic idea —
a few cops and cons under siege together — twists it a
bit, and amps the intensity up to 11.
Here's the skinny: Ethan (Gattaca) Hawke is Sergeant
Jake Roenick, a former undercover cop who's now working a desk
job after an injury. (Which is shown in the very cool opening
sequence. Do not be late for this film. Show up early for your
popcorn.) He's struggling to deal with the aftermath of his
injury, which hurt not only his leg but his confidence. Jake
is well on his way to becoming a drunk, pill-popping, burnt-out
cop. Trying to keep him from this course is his assigned shrink,
Dr. Sabian (Maria Bello).
Jake has been stuck working at Detroit Precinct 13 on the last
night before it's closed. It's also New Year's Eve, and there's
a major snowstorm. Because of all this, there's just a skeleton
staff of Jake, the precinct's sex-obsessed secretary Iris (Drea
de Matteo), and retiring officer Jasper O'Shey (Brian "Character
Actor Extraordinaire" Dennehy) "holding the fort"
until the morning. Dr. Sabian is also stuck with them, thanks
to the storm. It should be a simple, uneventful night. Until
fate steps in.
Earlier that day, gang lord Marion Bishop (Laurence "Morpheus"
Fishburne), a hard-core gangster, was caught after having killed
an undercover officer in a church. Now, you remember the badass
cool Mr. Fishburne? The one from the first Matrix flick?
Not the long-winded guy from the sequels? Well, he's back. Fishburne
makes the simple act of putting on his suit coat look badass.
(Let's all hope they don't muck it all up with two crappy sub-par
sequels. You hear me, Wachowski brothers?)
Because of the holiday, he and three other inmates —
Smiley (Ja Rule), Anna (Aisha Hinds) and Beck (John Leguizamo)
— are being transported to lock-up until they can have
a bail hearing after the holiday. Because of the snowstorm,
their bus is rerouted to the closest precinct for the night,
number 13. So the four cons are placed into holding to wait
out the night while the two bus guards and skeleton staff celebrate
Now the problem with all this is that Bishop's former partner
in crime wants to make sure that Bishop never makes it to trial.
If Bishop does, then he goes to jail as well. What makes it
very interesting is that his former partner is Marcus Duvall,
head of the police major crimes squad. It seems that he and
his entire unit are on the take, so they all band together to
kill Bishop before sunrise.
The attempts to breach the precinct are done very well and
look tactically correct — at least to those of us who've
played the Rainbow Six games. The silenced submachine
guns are a bit "loud-quiet" but sound very cool.
The tension between the cops and cons working together to stay
alive is tight enough to bounce quarters.
The action is brutal. Most of the characters are pretty smart,
and when any of them dies it's like a punch in the gut. Whenever
one of the characters dies, the camera lingers on the dead face
for a few seconds. It's like the director is taunting you, saying,
"That's right, I killed 'em." There are no easy movie
escapes in this flick.
It helps that all of the characters are real characters.
Even the bad guys have well defined wants, needs, fears and
motivations. Hawke and Fishburne have a great chemistry, playing
off of each other as they make it clear that when the night
is over, they are still going to be on opposite sides of the
law. Dennehy breathes a lot of life into his old Irish cop;
you feel for Anna as a woman in a bad situation claiming innocence;
and Leguizamo does some of his best work as a speed-freak conspiracy
theorist. Screenwriter DeMonaco also gets high marks for making
Duvall more than just a cardboard-cutout bad cop. He has a great
friendship with his second-in-command, and his explanation of
the mathematics of the situation is a great scene.
Richet does a great job directing, playing with the setup and
the cuts, and really builds a deep, forbidding mood. You can
feel the clock ticking toward sunrise, not to mention the freezing
claustrophobia of the snowstorm.
This is one great little action movie that far surpasses the
original without destroying it. It is very much worth your time
and hard-earned cash, and I look forward to having it on DVD,
right next to my copy of the original.