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Assault on Precinct 13
Reviewed by Gary Mitchel, © 2005

Format: Movie
By:   Jean-Francois Richet
Genre:   Action
Released:   January 19, 2005
Review Date:   January 27, 2005
Audience Rating:   Rated R
RevSF Rating:   9/10 (What Is This?)

"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 the holiday.

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.

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