Assault on Precinct 13 is a remake of John Carpenter’s 1976 police thriller of the same name. It has been updated to the modern day and there have been alterations to the storyline but the basic premise remains. It is still about a small group of police, prisoners and civilians holed up in a decrepit police station that is under attack and are seriously outweighed in numbers and firepower.The opening scene is an undercover narcotics operation that goes wrong which is quite frantic and hard hitting as well as being very reminiscent of the beginning of Joe Carnahan's 2002 cop thriller Narc. It is in this scene that Jake Roenick loses two colleagues during an investigation that he was in charge of. The film then jumps 18 months to find him heavily on the booze, addicted to prescription drugs and working a desk job in a derelict police station in the middle of an industrial wasteland. It is New Years Eve and at 12am the station is to close its doors for good. All he and the skeleton staff of the soon to retire Jasper (Brian Dennehy) and party girl Iris (Drea de Matteo) need to do is lock up on their way out. This all sounds simple enough but a blizzard outside results in a prison bus having to stop and seek refuge there until the storm blows over. Unfortunately one of the prisoners is Marion Bishop (Laurence Fishburne), a crime lord whose upcoming court case could expose a huge amount of police corruption.
Not long after arriving at the station an entire SWAT team of crooked cops led by Marcus Duvall (Gabriel Byrne) attacks in the hope of taking him out. They see any of the innocent bystanders inside as collateral that will have to die to save their careers and livelihood. Realising that they are seriously outgunned Jake has no choice but to arm the prisoners if they are going to survive the night.
There is no great depth the story and if you go looking, you can pick the plot to pieces. But for a no brainer action flick it is well directed and there are no faults with the acting. Ethan Hawke confidently takes the lead and Mario Bello is great in her supporting role. Laurence Fishburne is perfect as the menacing Bishop as is John Leguizamo as a strung out and paranoid junkie. Had the talent and performances been anything less this could have well been a straight to rental release.
Normally I don’t go nitpicking with the realism of an action movie and am happy to go along with the ride but there is one scene in Assault on Precinct 13 that left me a little baffled. There is a showdown that ends up in a forest when it is mentioned earlier in the film that the only thing surrounding the station are factories (and some aerial shots confirm this). But flaws aside Assault on Precinct 13 still delivers enough thrills and suspense to make is worthy of an outing to the cinema if you are a fan of the genre.For a Hollywood action film this is quite gritty and the on screen violence is very graphic, so it will not be to everyone’s taste. But if you cope with a bit of bloodshed and don’t expect too much in the way of plot, there are far worse action films that have made it to the cinema recently than this (eg Cellular).