Assault on Precinct 13
Soon after the opening credits of director Jean–François Richet's Assault on Precinct 13, a gangster resembling Morpheus from The Matrix sits down near the back of a crowded church. The morning's sermon is a simple lesson: "Cherish your power to choose the righteous path."
This cynical churchgoer quickly disobeys. The church is quickly thrown into chaos. As the Detroit police close in for his capture, a series of events is set in motion that begins with a dead body in the sanctuary and concludes with corpses strewn all through a police precinct in the dead of a snow–buried night.
Richet, formerly a rap music producer, makes his first prominent American movie into an unremarkable, even dismaying, event—just another generically hyperviolent and overbearing genre flick. He's chosen to remake a 1976 action film by one of the kings of B–movies—John Carpenter—who went on to direct Halloween, Escape from New York, The Thing, and They Live. But instead of improving on Carpenter's film, he's only succeeded in making it a wearying assault on the eyes, ears, and intelligence.
Carpenter's Assault took a disrespected rookie policeman, some secretaries and cops, and some jailed crooks—including a notorious killer on death row—and he penned them all up in a police precinct on the night before its closure. Due to the office's imminent shutdown, the usual staff and supplies were unavailable. Our heroes were left to crouch behind desks while an army of zombie–like street gang members closed in from all sides. Fast, lean, efficient, and shockingly violent (for the time), this original Assault developed a few memorable characters with sparse, potent dialogue. Part exploitation–film, part Rio Bravo, it remains an amusing B–movie indulgence.
Richet's version of the film changes everything but the set. Once again, a bus transporting some prisoners is forced to make a detour—this time due to a closed road instead of a sick prisoner—and the criminals are locked up in the nearby precinct to wait out the storm. Again, Precinct 13, which has a remarkably similar layout to the original, is almost empty. And, just as before, men with guns advance out of the night and surround it. Over the course of the crisis, we become as acquainted with that building as Bruce Willis did with his Die Hard skyscraper.
But where Carpenter's film was effective in its simplicity and focus, Richet has overburdened the skeletal plot, giving several characters heavy emotional baggage and spoiling the nightmarish suspense by revealing the motivation of the heavily armed troops attacking the precinct. Carpenter's film turned up the tension by keeping the motivations of the murderous, multi–ethnic gang members mysterious. Richet casts the invaders as cops gone bad, closing in with body armor and night–vision, trying to kill one of the jailed crooks before he reveals what he knows about police corruption.
Desperately trying to hold down the fort, even as he realizes that he's up against his own colleagues, Officer Jake Roenick (Ethan Hawke) must keep his unlucky companions supplied with bullets and manage the tense relationships between the "good guys" and the crooks he turns loose.