Assault on Precinct 13 (2005)

It seems that in American cinema, we have a long history of people being holed up in one location and fighting off outside forces. There’s instant drama in fending off forces that outnumber you, and Hollywood knows this. There are historical dramas (The Alamo), fantasy flicks (Lords of the Rings), and nearly every other horror movie (Night of the Living Dead) that have a central conceit of the good guys being outnumbered and with no place to go. Assault on Precinct 13 (a remake of the 1976 John Carpenter cult film) is the latest in this mini-genre. The film has big stars like Ethan Hawke, Laurence Fishburne, Gabriel Bryne and a mustachioed Brian Dennehy (there really should be no other kind) but even star power with facial hair can’t stop Assault on Precinct 13 from feeling run-of-the-mill.

On New Year’s Rockin’ Eve, Sergeant Jake Roenick (Hawke) is left to tidy up precinct 13, which will be shut down in days. The precinct secretary (Drea De Matteo) and seen-it-all veteran Jasper (Dennehy) will keep Roenick company. But alas, they have more company than they expected. A bus transporting prisoners makes an emergency stop at the precinct because of a blizzard. The bus has three small time criminals (John Leguizamo, Ja Rule, Aisha Hinds) and one very big fish, crime kingpin and cop killer Marion Bishop (Fishburne). Late in the night the precinct is besieged by a team of dirty cops led by Marcus Duvall (Byrne). It seems Duvall and his squad of corrupt cops have had many deals with Bishop, enough that they can’t let him live. Jake takes command of the precinct’s motley crew, prisoners included, and attempts to have everyone work together to fight off the invading forces.

Hollywood upped the budget for this remake but they also upped the plot holes to match the firepower. How are the bad cops going to explain all those dead police officers in commando outfits? There’s likely enough forensic evidence everywhere to point a finger at the long arm of the law’s involvement. I suppose they could have burned the whole place down when they were done, but to paraphrase that great philosopher Ricky Ricardo, “Luuuuuucy, you got some ‘splainin’ to do.”

The acting is a non-issue. Hawke and Fishburne get to trade cool glances, Matteo gets to shake her Sopranos Joisey accent, and Dennehy gets to eat any scenery that isn’t bolted to the ground. I have no idea what Leguizamo was going for. His disturbed junkie performance reminded me of Mr. Ed, because whenever he spoke it looked like Leguizamo’s lip was being pulled up by an invisible string. Some may call this acting; I call it fun to watch.

Assault on Precinct 13 is constructed from so many familiar action elements you may think you’ve seen this movie before. Hawke plays a cop haunted by a bust gone wrong that, surprise, killed his partners. When the siege does go down, of course everyone can pick up a weapon (even a 1920s Tommy gun) and instantly become a trained marksman. There’s the whole “who can we trust” plot element that spurs Mexican standoffs between the cops and the crooks. All the characters are stock types, from Hawke’s reluctant hero, to Matteo’s saucy secretary, to Dennehy’s single-minded hothead to Fishburne’s calm and collected criminal mastermind badass. When a character opines a theory that someone on the inside is really working for the dirty cops, you should be able to immediately follow the falling anvils.

Even when it comes to the action, Assault on Precinct 13 is too familiar. Because nothing interesting is going on inside the precinct, the audience relies on the spurts of action for their money’s worth. It all gets a little bland after awhile. Cops try breaking in. They get shot. They try breaking in with more cops. They get shot. Granted, replace “cops” with “monsters” and you have 30% of horror movies. There needs to be escalating action and some overall cause and effect with the plot, especially with action movies set in one isolated locale. In Assault in Precinct 13, rarely does the previous moment matter because both sides seem to shrug and move on. The only notoriety director Jean-Francois Richet brings to the action is a peculiar fetish for long takes of fresh head shots. He does enjoy the slow trickle of blood out of a bullet to the cranium (I counted 5 times; turn it into a drinking game at your own danger).

Assault on Precinct 13 is indistinguishable from what Hollywood pumps out every day. The characters are stock, the dialogue is short but stale, the plot holes seem to swallow the film whole, and, most tragically, the action seems meaningless except when paring down the cast (there’s a ten-minute whirlwind that cuts the good guys in half). People hungry for action might find something worthwhile but most will probably walk out of the theater with the same shrug the actors seem to exhibit. Assault on Precinct 13 is a routine action flick that replaces escalation with excess.

Nate’s Grade: C

About natezoebl

One man. Many movies. I am a cinephile (which spell-check suggests should really be "epinephine"). I was told that a passion for movies was in his blood since I was conceived at a movie convention. While scientifically questionable, I do remember a childhood where I would wake up Saturday mornings, bounce on my parents' bed, and watch Siskel and Ebert's syndicated TV show. That doesn't seem normal. At age 17, I began writing movie reviews and have been unable to stop ever since. I was the co-founder and chief editor at (2007-2014) and now write freelance. I have over 1400 written film reviews to my name and counting. I am also a proud member of the Central Ohio Film Critics Association (COFCA) since 2012. In my (dwindling) free time, I like to write uncontrollably. I wrote a theatrical genre mash-up adaptation titled "Our Town... Attacked by Zombies" that was staged at my alma mater, Capital University in the fall of 2010 with minimal causalities and zero lawsuits. I have also written or co-written sixteen screenplays and pilots, with one of those scripts reviewed on industry blog Script Shadow. Thanks to the positive exposure, I am now also dipping my toes into the very industry I've been obsessed over since I was yea-high to whatever people are yea-high to in comparisons.

Posted on January 15, 2005, in 2005 Movies and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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