"Assault on Precinct 13" stumbled in theaters and vanished from the public eye about as quickly as Ethan Hawke is respected as a serious actor (Editor's note: Does that analogy make sense?). The film barely managed to make back its estimated budget, but amazingly this flop of a film is actually quite an impressive action movie.
The plot is simple. It's New Year's Eve, a small group of cops are guarding a dangerous criminal, and a bunch of corrupt cops show up to kill that criminal - and anyone who stands in their way. There's nothing more to it, but "Precinct 13" does a great job of making the most of it. The movie is at times violent, bloody and deserving of its R-rating, which is a rare treat in the day and age of PG-13 boredom. Best of all, "Precinct 13" says screw it to the rules and kills off just about whoever it wants whenever it wants, even if it means stopping a character arc dead in its tracks - pun intended. After all, not everyone gets to die only after fulfilling everything they set out to do.
On top of the effectiveness of the story, the acting is also quite good. Drea de Matteo, best known as Adriana from "The Sopranos" and perhaps Gina from NBC's "Joey" - if you are so inclined to such crap - isn't entirely effective, but then again she's given lines that basically insist that she's a whore. Other than her and a few other stereotypical characters here and there, the acting is worth the money, especially from Hawke and Fishburne. Hawke is probably one of the most underrated actors in Hollywood. He's handsome, got to sleep with Uma Thurman for several years and also chooses a lot of really good projects. On top of that, he's a very dynamic actor - someone who didn't deserve second billing to Denzel Washington in "Training Day" (wasn't Denzel the supporting character, not Hawke?).
Fishburne, of course, is a natural at playing a badass. While you do tend to sympathize with the character, Bishop the criminal is dark, violent and nasty when you cut to the chase, and it is fun to watch Fishburne in his element.
Unfortunately, Gabriel Byrne (as the main bad guy) is given very little screen time to show his magic, but at least the film didn't tread into unnecessary waters by portraying him as sympathetic in any way or form. After all, he's killing innocent people and fellow cops just to cover his own tracks, and he doesn't even blink when he pulls the trigger.
"Precinct 13," as you may expect, isn't perfect. There are a few questionable plot turns and reality holes here and there, but none are especially troublesome given the nature of the picture. I did have a little problem with the fact that as the movie goes on, everyone seemed to get worse at aiming. There is one scene where Fishburne and Hawke are exchanging gunfire with a bunch of dirty cops in the same room, yet with hundreds of rounds flying through the room no one is hit.
The ending is also a bit anticlimactic, and I didn't really understand how they suddenly wound up in a forest, but oh well...
"Assault on Precinct 13" is a fun and surprisingly gritty action film that properly addresses the lack of R-rated action movies in the entertainment industry these days.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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