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It's a cold and snowy New Year's Eve in Detroit as major crime figure Marion Bishop (Laurence Fishburne) is being transported by police across town with other, lesser criminals. The snow storm forces their truck to detour to the Police Department's Precinct 13 building, which is closing down for re-location. The officers are planning a farewell party, combined with New Year's Eve and reluctantly lock up the prisoners. But when black vans deliver a group of SWAT-like operatives at the building, led by special agent Marcus Duvall (Gabriel Byrne), the Precinct's senior officer, Sergeant Jake Roenick (Ethan Hawke) learns that Bishop's pending testimony against corrupt cops has put them all in deadly danger. Now, the crime boss and the cop must try to work together -along with the motley crew in the building - just to survive the cold and deadly night.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
One of the biggest challenges for writers revamping action thrillers made anytime before the mid 90s is the bloody mobile phone. It has punched a hole in many retread scripts, and Precinct 13 is another casualty. Unless you totally restructure the script to make allowances for the digital phone age, you're snookered as far as credibility goes. In 1976, when the original was made, if the phone lines were cut (by man or nature), there were no alternatives. In 2004, every self respecting crim, not to mention a psychatrist and a crooked cop, has at least one mobile phone.

Putting that inconvenient oversight aside, the film boasts an excellent cast working their hearts out. Ethan Hawke, playing a tortured cop whose guilt about an earlier undercover operation's deadly result is invoked to give him some demons, parlays this Roenick character into a suitably tormented figure under stress.

Laurence Fishburne brings the kind of ballast to his role as crime boss Marion Bishop (what's in a name?) as Gene Hackman might, full of authority and charisma. Gabriel Byrne is also effective as the ice hearted baddie, with Brian Dennehy making the most of the veteran cop with great wells of fire burning beneath his uniform.

The two central female characters (Maria Bello and Aisha Hinds) are given plenty to do, and the action is well paced. The action would also be welcome, if only cinematographer Robert Gantz had insisted on shooting it all without the hand held work. It's evident from the 'tripod' shots that he can light a scene, frame and move the camera, but when he takes up the hand held camera for close up action and fight sequences, he does a disservice to the film. Some of the hand held pans end up looking like home videos made by an over-enthusiastic owner of a new digital camera. The fad is dead; let it rest.

Yet another flaw to overlook; until the climactic scenes of the protagonists battling it out, both in character development terms and in simple action heroics. All is well until the action moves outside the Precinct building and we find ourselves in a veritable forest, seemingly adjacent to this city block. It's no central city park, as the final shot would have us believe, but if you can forgive all its trespasses, Assault on Precinct 13 may have enough gritty action, SWATy gunplay and smart dialogue, tense stand offs and adroit character insights to satisfy you as the week's Saturday Night Special.

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(US, 2004)

CAST: Ethan Hawke, Laurence Fishburne, Brian Dennehy, Gabriel Byrne, Ja Rule, Maria Bello, Aisha Hinds

PRODUCER: Pascal Caucheteux, Jeffrey Silver, Stephane Sperry

DIRECTOR: Jean-François Richet

SCRIPT: James DeMonaco (John Carpenter, film 1976)


EDITOR: Bill Pankow

MUSIC: Graeme Revell

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Paul D. Austerberry

RUNNING TIME: 109 minutes



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