Assault on Precinct 13 doesn’t remind of an early 1990s action movie because of Dorian Harewood, Kim Coates or Brian Dennehy showing up–or even because of the movie specific end credits song (by KRS-One no less). It doesn’t even remind of that genre because it lifts the icicle shamelessly from Die Hard 2. Even the presence of Matt Craven–in a theatrical release–doesn’t do it. I guess it’s because, even with all these identifiable similarities, Assault on Precinct 13 is a both traditionally solid action movie, as well as very self-aware. The casting is peculiar and I’d like to think the familiar faces were supposed to illicit the warm recognition they did. Assault on Precinct 13 feels like an action movie for people who won’t just recognize the icicle, but Coates as well. It’s a peanut butter and jelly movie.
As a remake of John Carpenter–one of Carpenter’s most distinctive features no less–Assault on Precinct 13 feels like they got the idea from a TV Guide description. With the exception of Laurence Fishburne’s character’s name, there isn’t any reference, isn’t any homage. There’s no urban uncanny here, the villains are all clearly defined (it’s Gabriel Byrne no less)–dirty cops instead of a street gang. Ethan Hawke (who would have thought, Hawke’s greatest commercial success comes from being an action guy) is a tormented cop who doesn’t know if he can make it. The psychological ramifications are trite and time wasters (the remake runs twenty minutes longer than the original), but they do allow for Maria Bello to be in the cast so I can’t complain too much. From her first scene, Bello and her acting quality seem rather out of place in Precinct 13, which is sturdily performed and all… but most of the cast members get about half their goofy dialogue out without it sounding cheesy. Bello gets it all out (to be fair to screenwriter DeMonaco, all of Bello’s scenes are the best written in the film). Hawke’s fine, but any acting ambitions he seemed to once have are very clearly gone. Fishburne’s fine too, but I was expecting more (he often just goes cheap with a Matrix delivery). Byrne’s lousy, but Currie Graham’s good as his sidekick. Dennehy’s good. John Leguizamo, in what should have just been a repeat of his annoying characters, adds some real texture to his performance. Drea De Matteo runs real hot and real cold.
But it’d be hard for Precinct 13 not to work. It’s a siege action movie and, as such, it’d have to be incompetently made to be bad. Director Richet is anything but incompetent. His composition isn’t startling, but it’s quite good and there isn’t a scene–even the poorly written first few–he doesn’t make compelling.
There’s one obvious, but not bad, CG shot. In the opening, Hawke’s at his desk (tortured, of course) and the camera pulls through the window and out into the sky until the precinct building becomes small. It reminded me of Curtiz’s use of miniatures in the 1930s. It’s a cool shot, sets the mood and all, but it’s nowhere near as interesting as it should be.
Anyway. The film’s certainly got me looking for more of Richet’s work.
But they never use the music. Carpenter’s theme to the original is one of his more recognizable compositions and it’d have made a great closing number… apologies to KRS-One.
Directed by Jean-François Richet; written by James DeMonaco, based on the film by John Carpenter; director of photography, Robert Gantz; edited by Bill Pankow; music by Graeme Revell; production designer, Paul D. Austerberry; produced by Pascal Caucheteux, Stephane Sperry and Jeffrey Silver; released by Rogue Pictures.
Starring Ethan Hawke (Sgt. Jake Roenick), Laurence Fishburne (Marion Bishop), Gabriel Byrne (Capt. Marcus Duvall), Maria Bello (Dr. Alex Sabian), Drea de Matteo (Iris Ferry), John Leguizamo (Beck), Brian Dennehy (Sgt. Jasper O’Shea), Ja Rule (Smiley), Currie Graham (Mike Kahane), Aisha Hinds (Anna), Matt Craven (Officer Kevin Capra), Fulvio Cecere (Ray Portnow), Peter Bryant (Lt. Holloway), Kim Coates (Officer Rosen), Hugh Dillon (Tony), Tig Fong (Danny Barbero), Jasmin Geljo (Marko), Jessica Greco (Coral) and Dorian Harewood (Gil).