An action movie can result in three things. The first–which should be the intention of all filmmakers–is to create a movie with mass appeal; one that is entertaining and that your girlfriend will enjoy too. The second is one that is entertaining, but has a real dumb story or it is critically flawed in many ways; perfect for a night out with the guys or if there is nothing better on cable TV. The third–which happens more often than not–is the creation of a movie that is so bad, that only people who crave senseless destruction will take the chance at recording it on their VCR when it plays late at night on TV.
‘Assault on Precinct 13’ is saddled with the second result. While the film does have potential with its decent action sequences and solid acting performances all around by the stellar performing cast, the story is simply way too flawed to be taken seriously. There are times in the story where even those who would dismiss mistakes as a result of making fiction would be left scratching their heads.
Ethan Hawke plays a cop named Jake Roenick who has hasn’t had it too good in the last little while. Someone under his command is shot while performing an undercover drug bust and Roenick himself is shot in the leg while trying to pursue the criminal. Afterwards, he’s stationed to a desk job as a captain of a run-down police station and developed quite the booze and painkiller addictions. While on duty for the station’s last day of operation on New Year’s Eve, he and his skeleton crew of a desk clerk (Drea de Matteo) and a retiring cop (Brian Dennehy), he’s stuck to hold a couple of prisoners who were in the process of being transported to prison, but were forced off the road due to a heavy snowstorm.
Enter Lawrence Fishburne, who plays mob boss Nicholas Zambrano, one of the prisoners on the sidetracked bus. When the almost-deserted police station comes under siege from unknown gunmen, it’s assumed that those on the outside raining bullets inside are Zambrano’s crew. The twist is that the attack is coordinated by dirty police officers sure to see jail time if Zambrano ever gets to court. Roenick is forced to allow the prisoners to help him fight their way out of the situation.
In Jean-Francois Richet’s American directorial debut, he presents us with a movie with good acting performances, witty dialogue, and entertaining and suspenseful action sequences. However, there is very little substance in between. There were too many head-scratching instances in the movie that overshadowed the positives. Richet’s failure to make plausible solutions to several critical errors and oversights seriously hinder the film’s potential.
The first big problem with the movie is that no one seems to figure out that the entire tactical force of the Detroit police department and their equipment is missing on New Year’s Eve, which includes a helicopter and more guns than the Americans currently have in Iraq. There is no way that they could have taken all that artillery and other equipment without someone higher-up in the chain of command being tipped off.
As well, the final climatic battle takes place in a forest, which seems quite bizarre, considering that throughout the movie, of all the aerial shots taken of the police station, the forest is never seen. We, as viewers, are supposed to believe that downtown Detroit has plenty of forests. While the final scene is filled with suspense (although in the end it is quite disappointing), one can’t help but frantically try to figure out how they ended up in a forest.
Finally, most bizarre of them all, is that fact that Maria Bello is in this film. Her character, Roenick’s shrink, has no relevance to the story. What psychiatrist books appointments on New Year’s Eve? She returns to the station after she had left earlier in the morning because of the traffic, which makes no sense either because it’s not as if Detroit is an incredibly huge city that takes three hours to get from one end to the other. For the amount of time she had been gone, she could have been anywhere in Detroit by the time she returned to the station. Her big scene in the movie is one which could have had her character replaced by any other. It’s a shame to see someone of Bello’s talent wasted. The chemistry between her character and Roenick was awkward and failed to exude any hidden sexual feelings that the script intended to bring out.
Despite these faults, the movie is still very watchable. The action scenes are not impossible, although one has to figure out how eight people were able to fend off the tactical unit of the Detroit police department for over half the movie. The relationship between Roenick and Zambrano is interesting and the supporting characters (John Leguizamo and Ja Rule) are enjoyable to watch as people who you know aren’t going to make it to the end of the film and are fun to see how they interact with the main characters. While the movie does provide a predictable twist, it keeps you second guessing throughout and it only becomes clear at the end of the movie instead of being obvious through most of it.
‘Assault on Precinct 13’ is nowhere as good as something along the lines of ‘Spider-Man’ or ‘The Bourne Supremacy’, but it is still a good watch. Richet would be wise to see his errors and work on them for his next movie. Yes, this movie is flawed; and at times seems critically flawed. However, if you suspend reality and just watch this film as a movie, it is quite enjoyable. If you’re expecting an Oscar-worthy film, you’re looking at the wrong movie. Have fun with this action and ignore the crap in-between.
6/10 – Mild Recommendation