Thursday, December 13, 2012

Triskaidekaphilia: 'Assault on Precinct 13' (2005)

On the 13th of each month, I write about a movie whose title contains the number 13.

A year ago, I wrote about John Carpenter's lean 1976 thriller Assault on Precinct 13, which I found even more impressive on second viewing. The 2005 remake, directed by French filmmaker Jean-Francois Richet, is not nearly as good, losing most of what made Carpenter's film successful and turning the story into a mundane crime thriller that makes little sense. A big part of the appeal of Carpenter's film is its simplicity, and Richet and screenwriter James DeMonaco lose that right away, spending the first several minutes of the movie establishing a tragic back story for main character Sgt. Jake Roenick (Ethan Hawke). Even worse, the faceless, almost zombie-like gang members who besieged the nearly abandoned police precinct in the original film have turned into talkative villains with convoluted motivations, which become less and less believable the more we learn about them.

In an interview earlier this year, Hawke said that he "just looked depressed" throughout this movie, and indeed the entire cast seems pretty dispirited, although Laurence Fishburne is good at delivering silky menace as crime boss Marion Bishop, whose presence in a holding cell in the broken-down old police station is the catalyst behind the siege. As Roenick, Hawke does project an air of world-weariness, but the character's angst doesn't really amount to much. The cast also includes Maria Bello, Brian Dennehy, Gabriel Byrne and John Leguizamo, but they're all playing stock types, from the mustache-twirling corrupt cop to the aging officer just on the verge of retirement.

Richet creates some moderately suspenseful moments, but the story drags on for way too long, especially when the entire climax takes place outside the precinct and involves a lame and obvious plot twist with one of the main characters. There was one development in the movie that took me by surprise, when a character who seemed destined for a happy ending was unceremoniously killed off, but there was nothing as brutal or shocking as the murder of the young girl in Carpenter's film. In a way, the obligation to use Carpenter's premise hampers the movie, since the police-corruption storyline fits awkwardly with the siege of a rundown old precinct. Maybe it would've been better to just make one without the other.

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