Our small group of players is trapped inside the decrepit Precinct 13, fighting for their lives against crooked cops decked out in the latest high tech assault gear who will stop at nothing to prevent their fallen ways from being brought out into the light, even if that means taking down anyone and everyone inside the precinct, cop and criminal alike. With a blizzard raging outside and everyone else celebrating New Years Eve, any chance of rescue before daybreak just isn't in the cards. And so our unlikely troop of underdogs must put aside their differences and band together if they want to have any hope of surviving the assault on precinct 13!
Unfortunately, the movie doesn't open anywhere close to that scenario. First, we're treated to a pretty much useless scene showing how our main character, Jake Roenick (played by Ethan Hawke), goes from a top-notch undercover cop to the alcoholic, pill-popping, burnt-out Sergeant of precinct 13. This transformation comes about after an undercover sting goes bad. At first, everything was going perfect, but then Jake brings out one of his undercover partners, whom one of the bad guys instantly recognizes as a cop. This causes everything to go sour, and while Jake gets shot in the leg, his two partners both bite the bullet.
I don't know why they felt that scene was necessary. We, the audience, don't need to know all the details of how a person becomes burnt out or addicted to alcohol and pain pill. It's actually better when they don't spell it out, and just drop clues here and there. Perhaps the filmmakers threw in that scene because they thought the beginning of the movie was too slow and didn't have enough action... which I think is true. If feels like a half hour goes by from the introduction of the precinct to the beginning of the assault. But tacking on a pointless action scene to fix the problem just doesn't do it. Try tightening up the script!
Several months later we come to find Jake as the Sergeant of precinct 13. It's New Year's Eve, and everyone hauling boxes out of the soon to be retired building. The only companions to stay behind are the soon to be retired veteran copy Jasper O'Shea (played by Brian Dennehy), and the oversexed station secretary Iris Ferry (Drea de Matteo). Soon they're joined by Alex Sabian (played by Mario Bello), Jake's police-assigned psychologist, after her attempt to make it to a New Year's Eve party through the blizzard fails miserably. And last but not least is a bus containing four prisoners and their two guards that was redirected to the precinct due to the storm.
Once we do finally get down to the assault, the film actually starts to get pretty good. We're at first led to believe that the stealthy, high-tech warriors are associates of Marion Bishop, one of the most powerful criminals in the city. It's quickly revealed, however, that these modern-day ninjas are not Bishop's men, and are not here to break him out. They're crooked cops, and they're here to make sure Bishop can't spill the beans on them. Of course, once everyone in the precinct knows this, the bad guys outside have no choice but to kill them all too. I'm still wondering how the heck the guys outside knew what was said by the guys inside. Hmmm, guess it's just better to not think so much.
The action sequences for the rest of the film were very well done. They were exciting, yet logical, and felt very realistic. Never did we see someone getting shot and flying back several feet. Never did I recall seeing sparks when a bullet hit a wall. The assault team all had on this SWAT looking heavy body armor, and when they got shot, they didn't just die. I can't recall how many movies I've seen where an assault team goes in covered in body armor just to get shot once or twice and be out of commission. Hello filmmaker?! Do you realize what the whole point of body armor is?! It's not just there to look cool!
Most of the cast and characters were pretty good too. Laurence Fishburne felt right at home as a tough-as-nail no-nonsense badass crime lord. John Leguizamo made what could have been a very annoying, talkative character into someone who was not just believable as a junkie, but someone who you actually looked forward to hearing what was going to come out of his mouth. The one person that did bug me through the whole movie, unfortunately, was Ethan Hawke. He seemed really skinny, like too skinny. He looked frail, and I just kept wanting to shout "eat something!" I felt like if he were to accidentally trip or something, he'd be down for the count. But hey, maybe that's what they were going for. Just seems to me that wouldn't be the kind of image you'd want your main character to portray.
So the action scenes where really good, and most of the characters were enjoyable to see interacting with each other... while they were alive, that is. But the beginning of the movie really brought it down for me, and then the end of the film bugged me a little too, but I won't mention any more about that. Just see it for yourself and see if you know what I'm talking about. So this was good, I enjoyed the meat of it, but I think it could have benefited a lot had they just been able to tighten up the script a tad more. Still, I'd say it would be worth watching at least once. You'd be sure to get some excitement out of it. The DVD has some special features, like segments focusing on the weapons, or the stunts, and those were fun to watch. There's also a general "behind the scenes", and some deleted scenes.
Assault On Precinct 13 (2005) is being released by Universal Studios Home Video on DVD starting May 10, 2005, and stars Ethan Hawke, Laurence Fishburne, Maria Bello, Drea De Matteo, Matt Craven, Brian Dennehy, John Leguizamo, Ja Rule, and Gabriel Byrne.