The Austin Chronicle

Assault on Precinct 13

Rated R, 109 min. Directed by Jean-François Richet. Starring Ethan Hawke, Laurence Fishburne, Maria Bello, Drea de Matteo, John Leguizamo, Ja Rule, Brian Dennehy, Gabriel Byrne.

REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Jan. 21, 2005

It’s never wise to try to one-up a classic, although in this case it’s more like twice-upping. John Carpenter’s 1976 Assault on Precinct 13 – a tight, lower-than-low-budget film about a rookie policeman (Austin Stoker) who finds himself and a clutch of prisoners and cops having the worst night of their lives when the abandoned precinct house he’s overseeing comes under siege from a marauding army of multiracial gangbangers – was itself a reimagining of Howard Hawks’ Rio Bravo. That film, one of the great director’s best, stars John Wayne and Dean Martin, and while Carpenter’s version lacked star power of any kind whatsoever, it more than made up for it with a crackling good script that featured enough quotable lines from Darwin Joston’s macho tough Napoleon Wilson ("Got a smoke?") to more than compensate for the flimsy set design and occasionally off-kilter line readings. This new version is superfluous in the extreme, and while it’s not technically a bad movie, per se, viewers unfamiliar with the film’s lineage will likely write it off as yet another midwinter also-ran, the sort of action film that never quite takes off and instead focuses on random gun battles and cheesy dialogue. Fans of Carpenter’s film, on the other hand, are more likely to lay siege to the theatre. (If there were still grindhouses in Times Square, New York City would be aflame.) The original’s bizarrely uninhabited Los Angeles netherworld setting (a choice location inadvertently brought about by budgetary concerns), which served to heighten the unease, is here transplanted to a wintery Detroit, which, while it makes sense in the context of the new script (from James DeMonaco), utterly abandons the eerie Twilight Zone-esque quality of its forerunner. Hawke plays Sgt. Jake Roenick, assigned a desk job after a botched sting operation that left several of his men dead, and for better or worse (much worse, actually), he’s no Austin Stoker. For that matter, Fishburne’s superbaddie Marion Bishop, who is languishing in the precinct’s holding pen, is no Jostin; try though he might to ooze severity, he comes off as one more arch-criminal parody. Also on board for the wild night are psycho killer Beck (Leguizamo), horny cop groupie Iris (de Matteo) (late of The Sopranos), and the requisite sage old-schooler Jasper O'Shea (Dennehy). DeMonaco’s script comes up with all sorts of new twists, but it fails to generate even an iota of the frisson of Carpenter’s slam-bang original. That earlier film not only echoed Hawks’ Rio Bravo, but also paid unnerving homage to George Romero’s then-recent Night of the Living Dead, with the characters arguing among themselves about the wisdom of retreating to the basement to wait out the peril. That and the fact that Carpenter’s film simply had a certain no-budget panache and the très cool presence of Jostin’s righteously Hawksian Napoleon Wilson render this remake doomed from the get-go. It’s not so much a case of being a bad movie as it is a pointless one. Here’s hoping no one ever has the ill-fortune to attempt a remake of Big Trouble in Little China: San Francisco will be in ruins if that ever comes to pass.

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