Monday 30 November 2015

Movie Review: Assault On Precinct 13 (2005)

A police-under-siege action thriller, Assault On Precinct 13 tries to find some balance between a hail of bullets and character interaction. But by dumping logic into the Detroit snow, the film achieves guff rather than grit.

Undercover detective Jake Roenick (Ethan Hawke) leads his small team into a botched drug sting operation, resulting in the loss of two officers. Eight months later, Roenick is still traumatized, killing time at a desk job and making no progress with psychiatrist Alex Sabian (Maria Bello). It's New Year's Eve, Detroit is smothered by a snow storm, and Roenick, secretary Drea de Matteo (Iris Ferry) and veteran Sergeant Jasper O'Shea (Brian Dennehy) are staffing the otherwise abandoned Precinct 13 for the final time before the station closes for good.

Crime boss Marion Bishop (Laurence Fishburne) is arrested after killing an undercover police officer, and the snow storm forces his prisoner bus to unexpectedly divert to Precinct 13 for the night. Roenick places the high profile Bishop and a bunch of petty prisoners into the station prison cells, and soon enough Precinct 13 is under armed assault. It's not Bishop's men who are out to free him, but rather rogue cops under the leadership of Captain Marcus Duvall (Gabriel Byrne) who need to silence Bishop and all witnesses before he reveals the depth of corruption in the police ranks. With no help in sight, Roenick has to hunker down for the night and organize a defence, which forces him into an uneasy alliance with Bishop.

A remake of the 1976 John Carpenter film of the same name, Assault On Precinct 13 features no shortage of gruesome action. Bullets to the brain and icicles in the eye are just some of the treats director Jean-Fran├žois Richet throws at the screen for full splatter effect. On the more cerebral level, there is an honest attempt to give Roenick a backstory, but the narrative is not well served by the very tired premise of the hero hiding in a bottle to escape a bad episode in his life.

The third and final attempt to distinguish the film is the complex relationship between Roenick the honest cop and Bishop the master crime lord, two men from opposite sides of the law forced to work together against a common enemy for just one night. Thanks to fine performances from Ethan Hawke and Laurence Fishburne, the dynamic between the reluctant protector and the supremely confidant target brings a trace of depth to an otherwise rudimentary film.

But any good intentions to deliver a quality thriller are severely undermined by the stupid bad guys syndrome, which ultimately obliterates any promise held by the film. Gabriel Byrne as lead villain Marcus Duvall fails miserably in a lame attempt to convey evil intent. Meanwhile his army of heavily armed and fully equipped murderous men are somehow outsmarted in every confrontation by Roenick and his ragtag group made up of prisoners, one beat cop and a couple of civilians.

There is no escaping the sense that the assault could have been over in about three and half minutes had Duvall brought his full force to bear, as any smart antagonist aiming to murder a group of people in cold blood would have done. Matters are made much worse when the equivalent of a mini-war rages for hours at Precinct 13, and no external force responds to all the gun fire. Detroit may be bad; it's not this lawless, yet.

Inside the besieged building Maria Bello gets a couple of good scenes but then dissolves into victimhood when the shooting starts, while Iris Ferry's take on secretary Drea as an oversexed doll seems to be entirely incongruous. The other prisoners offer roles for John Leguizamo and rapper Ja Rule.

Assault On Precinct 13 ends at daybreak with combatants pursuing each other in a forest shrouded by fog. They can't see each other, and neither can anyone see much point in this unnecessary remake.

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