Published Dec 01, 2004As more and more "cult classic" films get the remake treatment, it becomes harder and harder not to be cynical about this trend. Granted, Dawn of the Dead was serviceable, verging on good, and Spielberg's War of the Worlds promises potential greatness, but "good" or "serviceable" remakes tend to be the exception, not the rule. Of course, it may be better to take movies that had a strong premise but failed in execution and attempt to redo it right than continue to remake movies that nailed it the first time. But as Assault on Precinct 13 proves, sometimes remaking a "cult classic" isn't such a terrible idea.
While many justifiably feel that John Carpenter's original version of Assault on Precinct 13 didn't need to be remade, looking back on its then shocking violence and brutality (it was made in 1976 and was threatened with an X rating), it hasn't aged that well, not being particularity shocking or violent by today's more realistic standards. But it unquestionably still has some awesome moments, bad-ass characters and good one-liners. Despite being an underground film, it has also permeated pop-culture enough to have been referenced on Angel (season three, if I'm not mistaken) and stylistically its influence can be felt (along with Rio Bravo, Aliens, etc.) whenever a film has a siege segment.
Flipping the script on Carpenter's version, Richet's updating of Assault on Precinct 13 once again features a precinct (13, duh) under siege on the last night of its existence (conveniently explaining its understaffing). But Richet's version places it in a snowbound Detroit (instead of L.A.) during New Year's Eve, with the antagonists not revenge-seeking gang bangers but crooked cops (led by a sadly underused Gabriel Byrne) intent on killing a gangster inside (Laurence Fishburne, in a return to bad-ass form) before he can testify against them.
As with the original, the cops and villains inside are once again forced to team-up to stave off the siege until help arrives, if ever. And much like the original, it's not so much the dialogue or fairly straightforward premise that make the film, but the use of ultra-violence, (if you like head shots and executions, this film is for you), claustrophobia, tension and cool characters. Ethan Hawke is strong in his role of a broken cop forced to take charge; Fishburne radiates pure menace and cool as a mobster; and John Leguizamo is more amusing than annoying as a jailed junkie.
Of course, Assault On Precinct 13 is not without its flaws, as some of the characters are insanely typecast (Drea de Matteo's slutty secretary likes sex and smoking, Ja Rule plays a criminal who refers to himself in the third person) or underused (the aforementioned Byrne, who can portray malevolence so completely that it's a shame he wasn't given more to work with). Also, the decision to move the climax of the film out of the precinct and into the woods (as opposed to Carpenter's climactic basement holdout) is an odd choice that, along with the undeniably cool but almost other movie-like opening, somewhat fragments the feel of the film.
Still, Assault On Precinct 13 is a good action flick that delivers on all it promises (if not more) in the violence department, mainly sticks to its strengths (Hawke and Fishburne) and never aspires to be anything other than what it is, emerging as one of those rare good remakes in the process. (Alliance Atlantis)