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Assault on Precinct 13 /

Rated: R

Starring: Ethan Hawke, Laurence Fishburne, Maria Bello, John Leguizamo, Drea de Matteo

Directed by: Jean-François Richet

Produced by: David Linde, James Schamus, Jeffrey Silver, Stephane Sperry, Don Carmody, Pascal Caucheteux
Written by:
James DeMonaco
Rogue Pictures





     Unlike many, I can see how one could consider violence in film to be “cool.” The James Bond, Kill Bill, and Matrix movies are all prime examples of how guns and swords can make for fun times. However, whenever a movie as gruesome and aimless in intention as Assault on Precinct 13 comes along thinking that its gratuitousness is “cool,” I find myself somewhat offended. The subject matter of this film, itself, is perfectly acceptable, in my book. But, its execution blurs the line between the disturbed and the amusing. Assault on Precinct 13 cannot make up its mind regarding what it would like to be. As a result, in addition to being stylistically misguided, it comes across as extremely distasteful.

     Assault on Precinct 13 is a remake of a 1976 John Carpenter film, which I have not seen. However, I am told that it is a bit of a gritty mess of a movie, which does not place coolness anywhere on its priority list. Both versions of the story share the same setting: the soon-to-be-closed Precinct 13. In this new update, most of the plot takes place on New Year’s Eve. Only four characters remain in the old precinct, as they anxiously await the arrival of January 1st. They are: Jake Roenick (Ethan Hawke), a police officer whose partners died in a drug bust and has been afraid of returning to the field ever since; Alex Sabian (Maria Bello), his psychologist, who is stuck at Precinct 13, as she cannot drive in the snowstorm outside; Iris (Drea deMatteo), the secretary of the place; and Jasper O'Shea (Brian Dennehy), a retiring officer who worked there during his career.

     The night first seems as though it will be a celebratory one, but the arrival of four prisoners, who must stay at Precinct 13 until the snowstorm dies down, introduces the story to havoc. One of these prisoners is Bishop (Lawrence Fishburne), a gangster who is willing to testify against Marcus Duvall (Gabriel Byrne), who helped him in his crimes. Duvall realizes that he will go to prison for a very long time if this happens, so he and a team of other men surround the precinct and execute a plan to kill Bishop and anyone he informs of what is happening and why it is.

     The main problem I have with Assault on Precinct 13’s execution is that all of its gunplay goes without any strategy. Once the basic plot is developed, not much happens, story-wise. Shooting, stabbing, and burning all take place. However, this is not likely to interest anyone aside from the average teenage boy. Graphic tales of blood and guts only work under two circumstances. (1) When they depict harshly real stories. (2) When they are parts of riveting fiction. Assault on Precinct 13’s violence fits neither of these molds. I, for one, was completely puzzled by what director Jean Francois-Richet expected me to think of his picture. I wasn’t enthralled by its grisly images and only responded to them by letting out the occasional “OWW!” I didn’t care for any of the characters, and was completely unaffected when some of them were wounded.

     All of the performances in Assault on Precinct 13 are solid, but nothing to rave about. Ethan Hawke’s typical ADD-like shtick actually works here, seeing as his character is usually in a state of desperation. Not to mention, it suits him even better in the opening scene, in which he’s posing undercover as a strung-out drug-dealer. Lawrence Fishburne keeps the same intimidating stare and tone of voice throughout the entire movie, but never comes across as a one-trick-pony. The only actor who isn’t any good in the movie is John Leguizimo, who totally misses the mark in playing the in-your-face Beck, one of the unlucky prisoners who must stay at Precinct 13 for the brutal night.

     I wish I could simply dismiss Assault on Precinct 13 by calling it a mindless action flick that manages to be occasionally interesting, but I cannot. Am I really supposed to think of a movie with such mean-spirited bloodshed as an enjoyable experience? It might not be boring, but it doesn’t even exist in the realm of my recommendation. Time is too precious to be wasted on senseless movies. Assault on Precinct 13 is a senseless movie.

-Danny, Bucket Reviews (Posted in 12.28.2004-2.5.2005 Update)

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