One of the luxuries of streaming is to reappraise films from the past; this remake of John Carpenter’s 1976 B movie classic got short shrift on release, perhaps because of the general adulation for the original. But this time I changed the record, and decided to tackle the remake first. Jean-François Richet’s reworking does pretty nicely on its own merits, and deserves a stand-alone review.
Ethan Hawke, last seen dressed as Nikolai Tesla and singing Everyone Wants to Rule the World on karaoke, puts on his best leading man big-boy boots to play Jake Roenick, who happens to be in charge of the police station in question on the night that all hell breaks lose. It’s Dec 31st, for a start, Jake’s shrink (Maria Bello) is visiting, and the cells are full of crims coming up and down on various substances. But taking in crime-lord Bishop (Laurence Fishburne) sets the cat amongst the pigeons, with a swarm of corrupt cops determined to make sure that Bishop takes his secrets to the grave. Roenick knows all about police corruption, and refuses to go along with it; he gives arms to Bishop and the other crims, and they prepare for a brutal siege as the minutes tick by.
Before he went on to the eminence grise behind the Purge franchise, writer James DeMonaco did a neat job here; he inverts the allegiances, with the station no longer under siege from street-gangs but crooked cops. There’s some cheesy moments, and some painful clichés, sure, but somehow the situational drama remains intact; some films make a virtue of being trapped in one location, and that notion still works here.
There’s also a touch of The Matrix about Fishburne’s character, and more than a hint of John Wick’s urban glow; Assault on Precinct 13 could be set in the Wick world. Hawke and Fishburne are excellent performers, the support (Bello, Brian Dennehy) shine, and the whole enterprise has the feel of a good if uninspired B movie, with tough, not improbable action that drills down to a final shootout in a snowy forest. Purists may scoff, but while Carpenter’s version should be preferred by cineastes, casual views should do just fine with DeMonaco’s spare, lean thriller.