Assault on Precinct 13
November 23, 2005
Assault on Precinct 13 (2004) is a remake of John Carpenter’s no frills cult classic (which was a remake of Howard Hawks’ Rio Bravo) but with a name cast and a CGI facelift. The results are a mixed bag. While competently filmed and ably acted by the cast, the film suffers from standard stereotypes and a lack of any kind of edge that made the original so memorable.
After an undercover drug bust goes bad resulting in the death of two of his fellow police officers, Jake Roenick (Hawke) is banished to a desk job command at a police station in a desolate part of Detroit. It’s New Year’s Eve during a blizzard and the station is being closed down. The film quickly trots out the stereotypes with the slutty secretary (is Drea de Matteo doomed to be forever clad in a push-up bra? see: The Sopranos and Joey) and the veteran cop (Dennehy) on the verge of retirement.
A prison bus transporting more stereotypes (Laurence Fishburne as the bad-ass criminal of few words and John Leguizamo as the motormouth junkie) is forced to hold up at Roenick’s precinct when accidents caused by the increasingly inhospitable weather make travel impossible. Pretty soon a group of masked gunmen surround the building looking for Bishop (Fishburne). Understaffed and without power or access to phones, Roenick and his people are trapped and forced to temporarily team up with the criminals if they are going to survive.
The film’s script tries to add some depth to the two leads but does so in an obvious way. Bishop is a hardened criminal who has lost his faith and we know this because he ruthlessly kills a cop in a church (although, it was in self-defense). Roenick is a flawed cop hooked on painkillers for an injury he sustained eight months ago. Fishburne and Hawke do the best they can with the material they’re given but it isn’t much.
Fishburne plays it cool with that great, deep, authoritative voice of his, while Hawke does the tortured cop thing. Both demonstrate intelligence with their characters who realize that they are going to need each other’s help in order to survive the night. The two actors resort to the less-is-more school of acting on this one, especially Fishburne who seems to be the only one showing any kind of respect to the original movie. To his credit, Hawke makes a credible action hero and never looks out of place as he tries hard to inject some kind of substance into this fairly average action film.
This version of Assault on Precinct 13 opts for a more long, drawn out siege as opposed to the relentless onslaught of the original which was able to use every ounce of tension so effectively. This is what’s missing from the new version. It’s a shame because the action sequences are exciting and well done despite the bad guy snipers being lousy shots—they have no problem picking off the supporting cast but can’t seem to hit the stars no matter how clear a shot they have. Like the original, this version is a straightforward B-action movie but relies too much on well-worn stereotypes without trying to subvert them as the original did.
“Armed and Dangerous” is a brief look at weapon special Charles Taylor who supplied the film’s weapons and shows the ones used by the cast. He was also responsible for the safety of the stuntmen and the actors.
“Behind Precinct Walls” focuses on the production design, specifically the police station where most of the action takes place. The style of this featurette is a guided tour a la MTV Cribs.
“Plan of Attack” takes a look at the film’s stunts. The director wanted realism with the action sequences and so the actors were trained to perform stunts and shoot guns.
“The Assault Team” is mini-profile of the director, Jean-Francois Richet. He wanted to create tension between the characters and stresses that this is a character-driven movie. Too bad they are all stereotypes.
There is also an audio commentary by director Richet, writer James DeMonaco and producer Jeffrey Silver. They spend a lot of time pointing out the numerous homages to the original peppered throughout their movie and talk about shooting on a tight schedule. It was Richet who resisted having a romance between Roenick and his psychiatrist (Bello). This is a low-key, competent track as the three men talk about how they made this movie.
There are some deleted scenes with optional audio commentary by Richet. This footage was cut because it didn’t convey any information or it slowed down the pacing of the movie. Included is a scene that somewhat humanized the villain (Byrne) and actually added a little dimension to his character. Too bad it was cut.
Finally, there is “Caught in the Crosshairs,” a behind-the-scenes, standard press kit featurette with the cast and crew talking about the film’s story and the characters mixed in with lots of clips from the movie.