BY JEREMIAH LEWIS, American Digest Film Editor
(2005) Rated R -- 3 stars out of 5
When you stand in line for a ticket to Assault on Precinct 13, hand your money over with a smile, and gleefully stroll down that long dark hallway to Theatre 7, odds are you aren't there for
Nevertheless, should you find yourself in that line, paying that money, and wearing that smile of contented brainlessness, you can do worse than to watch the remake of John Carpenter's 1976 Assault on Precinct 13. This modern day retelling has been updated with a few twists, a different cast of characters, and a John Carpenter-less score, but otherwise it is the same picture.
The problem with seeing movies like these is you can hardly remember anything worthwhile about it after the fact. It's not that it's not memorable per se, it's just that the pacing is so fast and the story so undeniably simple that taking anything away from the experience would require several pints of your own blood. I enjoyed myself in the theatre, but there's little I can say about it that's either good or bad. Still I'll do my best, because hey, that's what I do.
Detroit, present day: Jake Roenick (Ethan Hawke) is an undercover cop who loses some team members in a drug bust gone bad. He survives, but trades in his field spurs to be a desk jockey at Precinct 13, which on the eve of the New Year is closing down for good. He medicates his pain, guilt, mid-life frustration, and possibly his singleness with pills and whiskey, and taunts his shrink (Maria Bello) who accuses him of not caring anymore.
Also at Precinct 13 is the 'One-Day-To-Retirement' cop Jasper O'Shea (Brian Dennehy), playing a cheerful stereotype of the weighty Irish cop, Drea de Matteo as an oversexed (or undersexed, depending on your perspective) party girl cop, and Matt Craven, who has one of the most recognizable faces but least remembered names in Hollywood, as a maybe dirty cop who sneaks into the action midway through.
In the middle of a blizzard that would make Vince Lombardi cringe, Precinct 21 orders a prisoner transfer by bus, ala The Fugitive. The star of that show is Marion Bishop (Lawrence Fishburne), a criminal mastermind and ultra bad dude with good fashion sense, who has just killed a dirty undercover cop. Also on the bus are the comedic relief, made up of Ja Rule as "Smiley", a criminal who refers to himself in the third person, John Leguizamo as a junkie (a civic and constitutionally minded junkie at that), and Aisha Hinds. The bus stops at, of course, Precinct 13 and offloads the prisoners until the storm dies down.
But Bishop has powerful enemies. In this case, it is Marcus Duvall (Gabriel Byrne), head of the anti-racketeering and undercover division and former "business" partners with Bishop. Duvall wants to stop Bishop from testifying against him and all the other corrupt cops in the city. To protect themselves, they stage an assault on the precinct in which they must kill everyone inside.
After a failed attempt to break in quietly and assassinate Bishop, Duvall and his ask-no-questions men try it with rocket launchers, C4, and .50 cals, dealing out lots of broken glass but not a whole lot of bodily injury to the party inside. Hawke, once again under pressure, decides that the only way they're getting out alive is to arm the prisoners. Oh, the drama! The conflict! The humanity!
Director Jean-Francois Richet has an obvious love of violence, and the R-rating here is well-earned. It is best not to get too close to the characters, as a number of them suffer fates that, at one time (way back when), were not able to be shown on screen. Thankfully, Hollywood knows what young men want (no, not porn), and so we get the violence and action in spades. There are a few obligatory scenes where Hawke questions himself, resolves to take charge, etc. It's pandering, we know, but we accept it as long as it doesn't take away from the next scene where someone gets shot in the head.
Then there is the icicle stabbing scene ripped directly from Die Hard 2, which despite its legacy, isn't quite the movie you want to be emulating. The end starts to meander a little, turning into standard cops vs. robbers vs. cops affair, but you can handle it.
Assault isn't a bad movie, it's just not that great. It was enjoyable, however, and that brainlessness I talked about in the first paragraph only lasted as long as the end credits. You can drive away from this one feeling okay about yourself, and that's something in the age of Alien Vs. Predator. Compared to that dreck, Assault on Precinct 13 is a shot in the arm.