'Precinct 13' a well-made remake twice removed

Ethan Hawke plays cop Jake Roenick in the fast-paced, action-packed "Assault on Precinct 13," which opens today.

The Associated Press
Published: Wednesday, January 19, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 18, 2005 at 10:56 p.m.
The urban action flick is the Western of the modern era, with hoodlums and gangs replacing the outlaws and rustlers of the Old West. The law, of course, has remained the law, with police detectives and patrolmen taking over for the sheriffs and marshals.
John Carpenter's low-budget "Assault on Precinct 13" of 1976 famously linked cops and cowboys by updating the 1959 John Wayne Western, "Rio Bravo," to the Los Angeles of the 1970s. Instead of outlaws trying to spring their leader from a frontier jail cell, it was a drug gang laying siege to an isolated police precinct. "Assault on Precinct 13" never achieved much more than cult status and remains better known by second-hand reputation than by anyone's actual memory of having seen it. It was Carpenter's next film - "Halloween" - that made him famous.
Now "Assault on Precinct 13" has been remade, with a bigger budget and with Laurence Fishburne, Ethan Hawke, and other experienced stars replacing the original's no-name cast. More importantly, the film's setting and several plot points have been updated or tweaked, although, in truth, it's unlikely that many in the film's young, male target audience will be aware of Carpenter's 29-year-old movie.
The new "Assault on Precinct 13" is a gritty, violent, fast-paced action film, bolstered by a more appealing and experienced cast than is usually found in such movies. Jake Roenick (Hawke) is a cop carrying guilt for an undercover drug bust that went wrong several months earlier, resulting in the deaths of fellow officers. He now draws desk duty.
The film opens as Roenick arrives for his last night at Precinct 13, a decrepit Detroit facility that's closing. Most of the precinct's equipment and staff have already been reassigned. It's New Year's Eve, and Roenick oversees a skeleton crew, including a retiring veteran (Brian Dennehy) and a party-girl secretary (Drea de Matteo) who's eager to get to holiday festivities. A brutal snow storm forces a prisoner transit bus to stop at 13, and its inmate passengers are herded into 13's battered old jail cells, because the city is virtually shut down by the storm. The precinct's temporary prisoners include a Detroit gangster named Bishop (Fishburne).
The precinct soon is under assault by corrupt cops who need to kill Bishop before he exposes them. Ultimately, Roenick needs to arm the prisoners as well as his staff, as an act of self-preservation. But that can't be a good thing.
Under the darkly stylish direction of France's Jean-Francois Richet, "Assault on Precinct 13" isn't fancy or deep, but it is a well-made police thriller, with enough plot twists and visceral action to keep the energy flowing. The experienced cast manages to breathe a sense of reality into the characters. That's all you can ask of an urban action film. Or a Western.

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