Assault on Precinct 13 (8/10)
by Tony Medley
There are remakes
that ape a much better original like “Alfie” and “Around the World in 80
Days” last year. There are a few that are similar but different, and
that’s what we have here. Even though this has the same name as the John
Carpenter 1976 original, these filmmakers, Director
Jean-François Richet and Producers
Pascal Couchette, Stephanie Sperry, and Jeffrey Silver, call this one a
“re-imagining” rather than a remake. Both versions have the same general
theme in common and both are based on Howard Hawks “Rio Bravo” (1959).
While Carpenter’s film was set in arid California, this film is set in
snowbound Detroit on New Year’s Eve. There are other differences, but
the premise is the same; a poorly manned police precinct is attacked by
outside forces and the inhabitants of the precinct must link up with
their prisoners to defend themselves.
Sergeant Jake Roenick (Ethan Hawke) is in charge or Precinct 13 on its
last day of existence. He’s a flawed policeman as he’s trying to recover
from a botched undercover sting that went very wrong and he’s being
psychoanalyzed by Alex Sabina (Maria Belo). The other cop at the
precinct is an old timer, Jasper O’Shea (Brian Denney).
Suddenly into their jailhouse comes a busload of prisoners who, because
of the snowstorm, can’t get through to the maximum security prison for
which they are headed. The prisoners include Marion Bishop (Laurence
Fishbone), a crime lord, and some minor criminals, junkie Beck (John
Leguizamo), Smiley (Jeffrey “Ja Rule” Atkins), and gang member Anna
Two masked men invade the precinct and the fight is on with the bad guys
headed by a cold-blooded Marcus Duval (Gabriel Byrne). Richet expertly
directs the action so that the constant tension continues to escalate.
Carpenter’s original invented the urban western genre and this falls
right in line. There are even the leaps of faith you find in most
westerns. For example, at the start of the film Roenick and Jasper are
looking through the evidence locker and find a circa-1930’s tommy gun.
Later during the battle the gun is put to good use. But we are to
believe that abundant ammunition for the tommy gun has been preserved
all these years and is still in good working order. Also, like in most
westerns, bullets fly all over the place, never hitting anyone. And
there’s the classic western scene where the bad guys outside are
pummeling the structure with thousands of rounds with the good guys
hiding right next to a window. There are the requisite respites during
which the bad guys outside cease firing for a few moments so the good
guys can pop up at the window and spray a few shots of their own with no
bullets coming at them. Ah, Hollywood!
Another thing that I generally find offensive is when a gangster is
depicted sympathetically. Bishop is shown as strong and wise and someone
to be relied upon, like Marlon Brando in “The Godfather” saga. Gangsters
are murderers, drug dealers, hardened criminals. It's unfortunate when
Hollywood chooses to show them in a positive light instead of the
sociopaths they are.
These are minor glitches, however, as the film is well done and kept me
on the edge of my seat throughout. There is character development, as
well. While the original was a basic action flick with the characters
secondary, screenwriter James DeMonaco develops Roenick and Bishop and
Alex and Jasper and the others so that there are personal stories as
well as action. All in all a fast-paced, tense, entertaining 109