With ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 we learn two important lessons. One, that remakes, in this case of John Carpenter’s 1976 original of the same name, fail, and badly, much more often than they succeed. Two, that Laurence Fishburne has so much raw talent, smooth charisma, and irresistible personal magnetism that he can make even trash like this seem important, even if its only when he himself is on screen. While his co-stars flail and fumble, hes proving that hes not just a star, hes a consummate actor. And while it pains me to see him in this tripe, it makes me respect him all the more that he gives his all when a phoned-in performance would have been more than excusable under the circumstances.
Our story, as you recall from the original by John Carpenter, pits a group of good-guy cops and their prisoners at the eponymous precinct against the bad cops who storm the building. The good cops are taken by surprise, what with it being New Years Eve and the station being set to close forever at midnight. The skeleton crew of Jake Roenick (Ethan Hawke) a burned out ex-undercover cop, Jasper O’Shea the bluff and blustery cliché Irish cop whos about to retire (Brian Dennehy) and Iris (Drea de Matteo), the dishy secretary with the mini-skirt, spike heels and fishnet stockings are drinking and dancing the night away when the invasion begins. That would be Jakes psychiatrist, Dr. Alex Sabian (Maria Bello), whos been treating him for post-traumatic stress disorder since the bust that went bad and sent him to a desk job. Her car has broken down in the blizzard raging outside after her weekly session with Jake, leaving her all dressed up in plunging neckline and stilleto heels for the New Year’s Eve party she was heading for, and no place to go except back to the station. Then theres the bus transporting four prisoners thats diverted to the precinct because of the bad weather. Among them is Bishop (Laurence Fishburne), a kingpin who shows the same equanimity putting a pen into someones throat as he does using that same pen to fill in a crossword puzzle. Hes smooth, hes erudite, and hes the reason that the bad cops eventually show up to get him. Ill spare you further exposition. Suffice to say that the only time its worthwhile paying attention to the flick is when Bishop is in the shot, although John Leguizamo as a loquacious junkie with some highly evolved conspiracy theories is also attention worthy.
The rest of the cast is just so much filler. Hawke mumbles and mugs his way through his part. Bello starts with some crisp self-assurance, but quickly crumples like a spent soufflé and with about as much substance. Gabriel Byrne as the baddest of the bad cops looks menacing and sips his coffee with serious intent while waiting out the siege, but has little to add beyond that. Blame the script, which is suffused with pointless confrontations, meaningless stand-offs, and an assault team of dirty cops that all but beg to be taken out by the good guys what with the way they just stand there in the open before doing anything like taking a shot or ducking. Then theres the automatic weapons that can get off a gazillion rounds a second and still not hit their targets. Richet may have duded it up in artsy camera work and moody lighting that, mercifully, actually obscures the action from time to time, but its still a painfully inept effort.
Watching ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 put me in mind of Darwins theory of evolution, which posits that only the fittest survive and, so, pass their genes along to the next generation. As I watched the carnage on screen, it became clear to me that there was no one there to root for, much less that ought to be playing in the gene pool, except Bishop, and hes the sociopath. Make of it that what you will.