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25 June 2005

Assault on Precinct 13 (2005)

Ethan Hawke, Lawrence Fishburne, Gabriel Byrne & Drea de Matteo
Directed by Jean-Francois Richet

From Hollywood Video: "Remake of the John Carpenter classic from 1976 about a group of police officers who find themselves, and their station, surrounded by a rogue gang bent on freeing one of their members."

Apparently the little blurb writer relied on memories of the original. In this updated version by rookie director Richet, the "rogue gang" is a small army of 35 dirty cops that has come to kill gangster Fishburne so the secrets of on-going racketeering deals will never come to light in court. Predictable plot devices are used to keep five cops, a secretary, a psychiatrist, and four criminals stranded as the police make their assault: phones out, radio jammed, cell phones inoperable, blizzard-of-the-century outside (with really awful fake snow). And because the precinct house was scheduled for demolition, the diminished staff has an even more diminished supply of weapons for self-defense.

Eventually they put the cop vs. criminal thing "on pause" (a phrase used repeatedly to signify "witty banter" between Hawke and Fishburne) as they fend off their attackers. The criminals take up arms, thinking they have as much reason to defend the station as the cops do - just to make it through the night.

Then lots of people die. An icicle in the eye. An SUV crash. A few nasty point-blank executions. A few people on fire. And Drea de Matteo draws on her Sopranos roots to go from over-sexed secretary to bad-ass knife-wielding killer (but at least she looked a little sickened by it all). John Leguizamo, in a minor but flamboyant role as a junkie prisoner, was particularly entertaining. Lawrence Fishburne has brooding eyes, but everything he does now reminds me of Morpheus. Maria Bello, formerly so calm and cool on ER, was interesting but ultimately underused as the OCD psychiatrist. And speaking of underused, I think Gabriel Byrne had six minutes on screen. Aside from his one obligatory bad-guy speech, it was mostly Shakespeare- worthy lines like "don't let them out" or "call in the reserves". Brilliant!

And then there was Ethan Hawke. He has a lovely profile. He has a sad, weary look about him these days, ever since Uma and Training Day, and it's a shame that the film wasn't as good as his first five minutes on screen. His undercover-cop-as-junkie role - all skinny, nasty & manic - was very, very good, and then the creative juices dried up. Those few amazing opening moments proved that the problem was not with the stars, because they are all capable of really amazing performances, but with the stiff, tedious script and lackluster directing.

There seemed to be some moral at the end about "getting back on the horse," but I was already thinking about what I was going to after the movie was over.

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