Combustible Celluloid
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With: Ethan Hawke, Laurence Fishburne, John Leguizamo, Maria Bello, Ja Rule, Drea de Matteo, Matt Craven, Aisha Hinds, Brian Dennehy, Gabriel Byrne
Written by: James DeMonaco, based on the 1976 screenplay by John Carpenter
Directed by: Jean-Francois Richet
MPAA Rating: R for strong violence and language throughout, and some drug content
Running Time: 109
Date: 01/19/2005

Assault on Precinct 13 (2005)

2 Stars (out of 4)

Copping Out

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

It all started with a bad movie.

Back in 1952, like many others, John Wayne and director Howard Hawks went to see High Noon. Unlike many others, they hated it, calling it an unrealistic depiction of human nature. As payback they put together the great classic Rio Bravo (1959), which placed a Western sheriff in a similar showdown situation, but this time teamed up with the unlikeliest of colleagues.

The formula worked so well that Hawks and Wayne returned to it twice more, in varying degrees, with El Dorado (1967) and Rio Lobo (1970).

Not long after, the young director John Carpenter, who counted Hawks among his greatest inspirations, created a kind of urban remake called Assault on Precinct 13 (1976), in which a police officer must team up with a captured killer to face a greater threat. Like his idol, Carpenter too, revisited the same territory in a later film, the underrated Ghosts of Mars (2001).

Now, in 2005, some misguided souls have remade Assault on Precinct 13, this time ignoring all the Hawksian details and development that made the original work. We're back to the bad movie again.

Written by James DeMonaco and directed by Jean-Francois Richet, the new film opens with the lead character's backstory. Jake Roenick (Ethan Hawke) is a failed undercover cop who blew a drug bust and got his two partners killed. As a result, he is now skittish and burned out, and relies too much on drugs and booze to ease his pain.

On New Year's Eve, in the driving snow of Detroit, Jake's job is to close down an old police station. Meanwhile, a bus carrying prisoners -- notably the high-profile killer Bishop (Laurence Fishburne) --� is in the middle of a transfer. Delayed by rough weather, it stops at Jake's precinct for the night.

Before long, bullets come flying through the windows. A batch of crooked cops, led by Marcus Duvall (Gabriel Byrne), wishes to kill Bishop before he can testify and bring them all down. So everyone must team up to protect each other.

Drea de Matteo and Brian Dennehy co-star as a secretary and an aged cop, stuck in the station with Jake. Maria Bello plays Jake's shrink, also stranded by the storm. The criminals include Ja Rule, Aisha Hinds and an overacting John Leguizamo.

In Carpenter's original, the action stayed entirely inside, giving the characters time to develop at their own pace. Now the filmmakers constantly cut outside to the villains' perspective. This was perhaps an attempt to open the story up, but it only manages to slow everything down while giving us a boring, one-dimensional bad guy.

The 1976 characters started on the same page as blank slates, and so at any given time the audience never knew any more than anyone else. Now the characters try to one-up one another and out-analyze each other, and the contest is weighted. And the addition of a few new "surprise twists," won't fool anyone who has ever seen more than a couple of movies.

The filmmakers wind up the proceedings with a tired chase/shootout in the snowy woods behind the precinct. Where these woods came from is a mystery; they don't appear to be around during the first 90 minutes.

Indeed, the new Assault on Precinct 13 is one brain-dead film, full of holes and bad ideas. Our only hope is that, somewhere, a pair of young viewers who pay to see it will be inspired to do their own film and that it will be as good as Rio Bravo.

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