Precinct 13′: an assault on American cinema

By Ben Zalkind and Jenni Koehler

“Assault on Precinct 13″Rogue PicturesDirected by Jean-Franois RichetWritten by James DemonacoStarring Ethan Hawke, Laurence Fishburne, Maria Bello, John Leguizamo, Ja Rule, Brian Dennehy, and Gabriel ByrneRated R/ 109 minutesOpens Jan. 19, 2005

One-and-three-quarters out of five stars

It’s hard to imagine what first-time director Jean-Franois Richet intended his audience to glean from “Assault on Precinct 13.”

In the gritty opening scene, a gaunter-than-ever Ethan Hawke haggles with some swarthy Russian dealers, evoking images of the hyper-realistic 2002 cop-drama “Narc.” Oozing with machine-gun dialogue, frenetic indie cuts and unbridled realism, “Assault on Precinct 13” shows potential to break the mold.

However, as “Precinct” drones on, and the mood deteriorates into mainstream, ultra-violent fluff, it becomes apparent that any ingenuity displayed in the first few minutes is swiftly executed by the same skull-shattering, brain-blasting shot to the face that slaughtered one of our poor Russian friends.

In other words, it becomes clear that we’ve been duped.

“Precinct 13” is without a doubt the most gratuitously violent film to come out in the last few months. Nothing is left to the imagination, and what’s worse, the myriad unmentionable acts seem to be exposed purely for shock value.

Combine that with painfully forced, inane dialogue and a ludicrous premise, and you have the visually and aurally unbearable “Assault on Precinct 13.”

Due to a convenient blizzard, a shipment of petty criminals-oh yeah, and the city’s highest profile kingpin, Marion Bishop (played by Laurence Fishburne)-is diverted to the dilapidated, pitifully short-staffed Precinct 13.

Furnished with faulty doors and a broken alarm system, this facility is obviously the optimal place to house the insidious Morpheus.

As it’s New Year’s Eve, the two on-duty cops-plus a skanky secretary and a scantily clad, obsessive-compulsive psychiatrist-have already downed several glasses of cheap booze.

Officer Roenick (played by the impossibly sallow-cheeked Hawke), rendered a coward by the events of the opening sequence, is forced to take charge when an unidentified swarm of high-tech super-soldiers lays siege to the precinct. Who the hell are these guys? Are they just here for Bishop (Morpheus)? And most importantly, how did they conjure up this confounded blizzard?

Joining forces with their dubious prisoners, Roenick and the gang dance a blood-soaked tango with the unknown bad guys. Nearly everybody dies-the only question is “How gruesomely?”

Hawke, whose performance in the first scene is actually convincing, crumbles alongside the integrity of “Precinct’s” plot structure. Fishburne proves once again that he can only play one part-Morpheus.

Nothing is more hilarious than the dialogue between Beck (played by John Leguizamo), the philosophizing junkie, and the self-referencing Smiley (sassily played by Ja Rule). Screenwriter James Demonaco ought to be thoroughly ashamed.

If you happen to be one of those Americans who craves this sort of vengeful, frankly unreasonable cruelty, then “Assault on Precinct 13” will make you salivate.

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