ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13

R

-By Lewis Beale


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Itself a riff on Howard Hawks' El Dorado, director John Carpenter's Assault on Precinct 13 was a tightly structured, brilliantly directed and iconic tour de force. Set in Los Angeles, it pictured an isolated, about-to-be-abandoned police station under siege by a mixed-race street gang looking for a man who had killed one of their own. With its eerie score and minimalist dialogue, the film has become a true cult classic.

So naturally, today's Hollywood has taken this little gem and turned it into an over-the-top shootout replete with foul language, gruesome killings and unnecessary subplots. Such is the state of filmmaking today.

The 2005 version of Precinct 13 takes place on a snowy New Year's Eve in Detroit. Because of the weather, a bus filled with prisoners being transferred from one jail to another is forced to make a temporary stop at a police station that is being phased out. Unfortunately for the short-staffed precinct, one of the hoods on the bus is Marion Bishop (Laurence Fishburne), a major drug dealer and cop killer. Turns out Bishop has been in business with a bunch of crooked cops led by Marcus Du Vall (Gabriel Byrne), and his partners are afraid that he'll dime on them in exchange for a plea bargain. So, in the middle of the worst snowstorm in Michigan history, what seems like half of Detroit's finest decides to assault the police station in order to get Bishop and kill him.

Defending their lives are the usual gaggle of contemporary stereotypes: the cop who made a big mistake that cost two partners their lives (Ethan Hawke); a foul-mouthed secretary with sex on her brain (Drea de Matteo); a junkie criminal brought in with Bishop (John Leguizamo); the grizzled veteran about to retire (Brian Dennehy, slumming); and the totally innocent bystander, there by chance (Maria Bello, criminally misused once again).

Once these clichéd characters have been established, the remainder of the film comes down to a series of action set-pieces-none particularly memorable-and squabbles between the criminal and non-criminal elements inside the station. The cast does it best to grapple with this uninteresting material (although Fishburne, with his pompous delivery, should be reminded that he's not playing Morpheus anymore), but they're defeated at every turn by the total lack of originality in the screenplay and direction.

Ultimately nothing more than a "B" film on steroids, Assault on Precinct 13 should serve as some sort of Tinseltown cautionary tale. If you're going to revisit a classic, make sure you have something really special to bring to the party. Otherwise, don't bother.


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