The idea of remaking a John Carpenter movie seems almost sacrilegious. Oh sure the guy is no Coppola or Scorsese, but in the world of genre pictures and purely entertaining B-movies there really isn’t anyone with as solid or fun track record as Carpenter, especially during the height of his career in the 80’s. For all their cheesy techno music and hair, films like “The Thing”, “Big Trouble in Little China”, “The Fog”, “Escape from New York” and “Halloween” still work just as superbly today as they ever did.
If there’s one thing distinctive about his films though, it was that he came up with such interesting high concepts for movies that sadly – more often than not – didn’t have the budget behind them to execute those ideas as well as they should’ve been. Now comes along “Assault on Precinct 13”, the first of several remakes/sequels to Carpenter’s early efforts that are in the works at present. The result? Pretty good in fact.
Like the recent “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” or “Dawn of the Dead”, “Assault” is one of those remakes that whilst not being the genre defining film that its predecessor was, it’s still a perfectly servicable movie in its own right that’s quite enjoyable and on a production level a lot better looking than the 70’s low budget originator. Make no mistake, the first film was far from being one of Carpenter’s best or most popular films, and this is by no means a great remake or clever reinvention as such.
What it is though is a perfectly decent little action thriller with a hard edge of violence and a solid cast that’s head and shoulders better than the utter shite they’ve released throughout the rest of ths month. French director Jean-Francois Richet deliver some interesting shots and writer James DeMonaco sets up the idea of the ‘cops killing cops & crims’ storyline well, but neither are exactly great filmmakers so the tension level that was so pervasive in the original never really takes off here.
One thing this has over the original is stars with Ethan Hawke doing a much better job than his recent shite in “Taking Lives”, and Laurence Fishburne channeling a slightly darker Morpheus style performance as a crime kingpin. Drea DeMatteo, Viola Davis and Brian Dennehy all have great supporting parts that are stock characters but fun ones nonetheless. Not faring so well are Gabriel Byrne as the all too dull villain, Maria Bello as an utter airhead of a shrink, and John Leguizamo as a truly annoying junkie.
It may lack in suspense, but it makes up for it in violence. “Assault” isn’t a brutal film but it is harsh – characters are summarily and coldly executed, people die quite unexpectedly and there’s a lot of gunplay to go around. The last 20 minutes or so however screws the pooch a little as things are moved from the confines of the police station to the surrounding snow-bound woods. The resulting face-offs that most of the film has been building too unfortunately feel anti-climactic and let the whole effort down slightly.
Still, whilst its a far from perfect action flick, its still a pretty solid one and certainly a surprise for a time of year when dreck like “Elektra” and “Racing Stripes” rule the roost. This is one assault that’s far from indecent.