Assault on Precinct 13

How about we Detroiters learn some little-known facts about the city we live in, courtesy of the new remake of Assault on Precinct 13, which is (supposedly) set in Motown.

Apparently, there is a giant, run-down police station a stone’s throw from the Ren Cen that is so isolated, even a symphony of semiautomatic machine gun fire and near-atomic explosions won’t attract the attention of anyone for miles. Next to this precinct is a factory, in the parking lot of which there is the most heavily armed force of corrupt cops this side of the president’s SWAT-team, or maybe the guys in Predator. Oh, and next to this inner-city factory there is a neverending forest of tall pine trees, perfect for a little climactic gunplay and mano-a-mano combat. I don’t think we’re in Cass Corridor anymore, Toto.

Ah, but if suspension of disbelief were the only problem with this film, a ludicrous, big-budget “re-envisioning” of John Carpenter’s lean, mean 1975 standoff film. Carpenter’s film was an exercise in pulpy suspense, set against the backdrop of a Los Angeles gang war and based loosely on the classic western Rio Bravo. This new, everything-and-the-kitchen-sink Assault features corrupt Detroit policemen — led by the drowsy, French-cigarette smoking Gabriel Byrne —who will do anything to take out their archnemesis, the “scumbag gangster cop killer” Bishop (Laurence Fishburne, apparently doing his best James Earl Jones impersonation). Bishop is the kind of guy who uses a Sunday church service as a firing range. In other words, you could say this film is based loosely on nothing even resembling reality.

After being apprehended, Bishop is detained at the precinct, overseen by the something-to-prove disgraced cop Roenick (Ethan Hawke), who’s flanked by a nymphomaniac secretary (Drea de Matteo, conveniently reminding us that she “just can’t stop thinking about sex”), a police psychiatrist who makes house calls (Maria Bello, spouting such I’m-a-shrink lines as “the prospect of responsibility has rendered you impotent”), and countless other stock action-movie types. The star wattage of the cast is embarrassing, so much so that you start hoping they’ll take the movie out of its dumbass, alpha-male funk and into the realm of self-parody, not unlike Speed or Point Break.

No such luck. The only surprise to be had is the order in which the big-name actors are killed off, and director Jean-Francois Richet botches even those scenes with his reliance on annoying, unnecessary jump cuts and the worst shaky-cam shots ever committed to film. If you’re the kind of person who dreams of a day when Detroit’s finest will have the arsenal of a SWAT-team, or when we’ll all be able to enjoy a nature preserve in-between shifts at the stamping plant down the street, Assault on Precinct 13 might be the film for you. Otherwise, you’ll find more thrills and fewer unintentional laughs in even the worst Steven Seagal film.

Michael Hastings writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].

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