Assault on Precinct 13
Grade: B
Year: 2005
Director: Jean-François Richet
Writers: James DeMonaco, John Carpenter (earlier film)
Genre: Action
Rated: R
By Scott (Editor)

Jake Roenick (Ethan Hawke) is first seen taking part in a botched drug deal that lands two of his partners in the morgue and his hand reaching for the booze and the always reliable pill bottle. It's sorta what defeated cops do in the movies, and "Assault on Precinct 13" is no different.

But Jake gets the chance to redeem himself when he's scheduled to work the graveyard shift on News Year's Eve at the old police station that's scheduled to shut down forever at the strike of midnight. Good thing the place has been cleaned out and there's no jail population because the only employees on the clock are Jake, Jasper (Brian Dennehy), who's getting ready to retire, and Iris (Drea de Matteo ), the sexually charged secretary whom at one point actually responds to the charge that she sleeps with convicts with: "I don't bed criminals, I f*ck bad boys. There's a difference."

Also in the house is Jake's psychiatrist, Dr. Alex Sabian (Maria Bello), who cares for her patients so much that she holds office hours on New Year's Eve and basically determines that Jake still hasn't recovered from the day his two partners were killed, and believes he now works a desk job because he's too afraid to go back on the streets.

Jake doesn't quite appreciate her diagnosis but is forced to hear more of it when a massive snowstorm prevents Alex from going to the party she planned on attending, and finds herself stuck riding out the story with Jake and the others.

Things get interesting after the ball drops (literally) when that major snowstorm I just mentioned forces a bus transporting four hardened criminals to temporarily stop at Precinct 13 before better road conditions allow them to proceed to their planned destination. This might not be such a good idea considering the building has been stripped of everything short of working jail cells. Moreover, the three staff members are a little slow from all the drinking and celebrating that the New Year tends to bring.

Unloaded off the bus along with two security guards are Bishop (Laurence Fishburne), a known cop-killer and infamous -- according to one newscast -- for the way he kills people; Beck (John Leguizamo), a drug addict who claims to be a lawyer; Anna (Aisha Hinds), a tomboy hot-wirer; and Smiley (Ja Rule), who can produce counterfeit Rolexes and speaks in the third person.

Normally Jake would have no problem controlling misfits such as these characters, but when an outside force -- first presumed to be Bishop's thugs on a rescue mission --begin…well, begin assaulting on Precinct 13, things get a little bit hairy.

Add to the mix that all the power has been cut, meaning Jake and his crew have no way of calling for backup, they'll need all the help they can get. Before you know it, Jake is handing out Tommy Guns and all sorts of "evidence room" weapons to the prisoners. (Oh yeah, in addition to working jail cells the weapons have been left…but the computers, filing cabinets, alarm system and locks on the back doors have already been taken out of Precinct 13).

Anyway, Jake knows that he can trust Bishop and the other criminals because it turns out that the group assaulting Precinct 13 happens to a party that wants to kill both the cops and the prisoners. For now, the crew inside must work together to make it out alive. Or as Jake and Bishop say, "Our sh*t's on pause."

The characters held up inside the police station eventually make their way into a thick forest that somehow materializes outside the Detroit police station (it's best not to ask how); some will live and some won't, but I found the conclusion satisfying enough considering the film's premise.

"Assault on Precinct 13" is most certainly a silly movie, but is no doubt a lot of fun. Sure, the snipers can't hit squat, and that allows characters to run all over the yard without getting picked off even though they are always in the crosshairs, but that's excusable.

To be sure, the film is violent and deserves its R-rating. Several characters wind up biting the bullet in gruesome fashion; one person has an icicle stabbed through his eye ("Die Hard 2: Die Harder" style) and another is shot execution style. Often the indicator that a character is a dead is a running pool of blood streaming away from a stiff body on the fresh blanketed snow. So yeah, one who likes blood-gush in his action movies will feel right at home.

I found the character-twist at the end predictable, but most won't. Even those who do manage to figure out who's who will not walk away feeling cheated, most likely because the fate of most of the other characters aren't always foreseeable, and manages to sidestep the action clichés.

"Assault on Precinct 13" is not a bad way to start off the new year. For an action movie in January, it could have been a lot worse. But it's not even bad. It's actually pretty good. If it's an indicator of what's to come in the months ahead, the year 2005 looks to be a good one at the movies.

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