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DVD Review - Assault on Precinct 13

May 21st, 2005

Assault on Precinct 13, the remake to the John Carpenter cult classic hit theatres in January. And while the film failed to make much of an impact at the box office it should get a second life on the home market. It works better on the small screen and the DVD release is very well done.

This review is divided into three parts. First, the mini-review, which talks about general impressions without giving away more spoilers than the trailer does. Second, the main review, which deals with specific parts of the film and includes major spoilers so avoid that section if you don't want the ending given away. And finally there's the DVD review, which deals with the DVD presentation and the special features.

While this is a remake the setup is quite different from the first one. It's New Year's Eve, and Precinct 13 is closing down for good. Meanwhile across town, Marion Bishop, a notorious gangster and a cop killer, is captured and sent to jail but a snowstorm diverts the bus to Precinct 13. But when forces unknown attack, Jake Roenick must get the cops and criminals must band together if they want to survive the night.

This film has a lot of things going for it, there's much more character depth than the original, the stunts are bigger, the acting is sharper. And while many things are going for the film, enough goes wrong that the film is just a borderline film. For instance, some scenes that were meant to be emotional were too obvious and heavy-handed and that killed the mood, but more details on that later.

In the end, the movie is worth a rental to most and the DVD features will push that to a solid buy for quite a few. But even those who enjoy the movie will admit it is not high class entertainment, but merely a fun popcorn flick.

This is the main review of the movie and it does contain quite a lot of spoilers, so if you don't want the ending ruined for you, skip to the next section.

The film starts six months before the night in question with Jake Roenick in an undercover drug bust that goes bad resulting in him being wounded and his two partners being killed. The injury means he's stuck working behind a desk at some out of the way precinct, at least that's what he says, the psychologist thinks he is using that injury as an excuse to avoid responsibility, which is very important for the rest of the film.

The first part of the film sets up the plot and the characters quite well, although more than once I found my self playing, "Name that victim!" Guard taunting the prisoners? He's so dead. Black bus driver? I've seen enough Hollywood films to know he won't live through the night. Beck and Smiley, a.k.a. the comic relief? Sorry, better luck next time guys. "Old School is retiring." There's no way he'll make it. And for the most part there were only one or two surprises, but those surprising were very effective.

Once the assault got underway there was some strong action scenes, Marion Bishop use of molotov cocktails resulting in one of the best stunts in the movie. However, while the original plan was sound, (sneak in, grab Marion Bishop and make it look like his men broke him out of prison) the execution of this plan was so flawed it hurt the believability on the film. For instance, Jake Roenick killed one of the attackers, (with an icicle nonetheless) and found his police badge on him. Why carry your badge when you are attempting to assassinate someone? Why carry any ID at all? This was obviously done because it was needed to advance the plot, nothing more. The plan also had very little margin for error; once a few of Marcus DuVall's men were killed the odds they would get away with is reduced to nearly zero. There's a big attack and half your team stops showing up for work the next day, how do you explain that?

One of the problems I had with the film was the heavy-handed attempt at creating an emotional appeal with two specific scenes that stood out. Barricading the doors and windows included a scene of dramatic blind closing, at least I think it was supposed to be dramatic. You can't close Venetian Blinds in a dramatic fashion, it comes across as really corny. The second scene that really stood out was when Iris was asking Jake Roenick what they were going to do. This was supposed to emphasize fear that he felt over making life and death decisions, but the camera and audio effects used just made the scene so over the top that it became unintentionally funny.

On the other hand there were a couple of scenes that stood out as really effective, both involving Marion Bishop. The first was the last of a group of scenes with short conversations between civilians and criminals as they were awaiting the next wave of the assault. Jake Roenick and Beck discussing their drugs of choice was a good scenes but it was Marion Bishop's telling Iris Ferri about the classical Greek connection between sex and death that really impressed me. The second was his speech to Roenick about dying with dignity or with self-pity.

The special features on the disc include an audio commentary track with director Jean-Francois Richet, writer James DeMonaco, producer Jeffrey Silver. It wasn't as dense as some other audio commentaries, but it did have a good mix of technical information and they especially talk about inspirations for the film. I can't tell you the number of times the three participants said, 'homage.' The gaps in the audio commentary got a bit long just before the assault began in earnest, but never got to the point where it lost too much steam.

Next up on the special features list is the Explosive Deleted Scenes, which runs about 6:22 in length and can be played either with or without audio commentaries. This way you not only see the scene but hear why it was removed.

The rest of the special features are featurettes that use the standard mix of interviews / movie clips / behind the scenes clips and most of them focus on just one aspect of the film.
  • Armed and Dangerous - 4:50
    Charles Taylor - Weapon Specialist: He talks about what weapons used in the film and why each character had the weapon they did. He also explained some of the safety precautions involved when firing the weapons. What he didn't explain was why there was a fully loaded Tommy Gun in the evidence locker, granted, Aisha Hinds looked really good totting it around and maybe that was reason enough.
  • Behind the Precinct Walls - 7:22
    Paul Austerberry - Production designer: Gives us a tour of the set including 3D computer mockups. He talks about some of the references, how the sets were made to look decrepit and old and what needed to be done to aid filmmaking. For a movie that takes place almost entirely in one building, this featurette had a lot to talk about.
  • Plan of Attack - 4:21
    Steve Lucescu - Stunt Coordinator: There were a lot of stunts in this movie but a good chunk of this featurette is spent on the Molotov Cocktails scene, which I mentioned above. Also emphasized was the desire for realism and safety.
  • The Assault Team - 5:12
    Jeffery Silver - Producer, Jean-Francois Richet - Director and James Demonaco - Writer: These three talk about the production including talking about remaking a classic genre film, the language barrier and more. This was the same group that did the audio commentary, and there were some overlaps in information given, but it was still interesting to watch.
  • Caught in the Crosshairs - 12:32
    Behind the Scenes - The longest featurette is your typical behind the scenes / making of featurette involving most of the cast and crew. If you had just watched the movie and the rest of the featurettes there's very little hear you haven't already scene, but it works as one nice package.

In conclusion…

When I watched the movie the first time with a critical eye I was picking out problems scenes a lot more than ones that worked particularly well. And because of this I can't overwhelmingly recommend this movie. However, the second time I watched the movie I simply watched to see if it was an entertaining film, and you know what? It is. This is an entertaining film and should satisfy as long as you don't expect an Oscar winning film.


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Filed under: Video Review, Assault On Precinct 13