7 out of 10
It's curious to note the changing fads of Hollywood: one day, every flick is about robots and all-powerful computers trying to exterminate mankind, next week, all the heros are suffering and Obsessive Compulsive Disorders and are holed up under seige, but, either way, remakes are ALWAYS in style! From the Master of guts and gore, John Carpenter, came a classic cult flick "Assault On Precinct 13" in 1976; now, 28 years later, with seiges back in fashion, comes the remake.
Whilst they have used the same basic concept of the Police in an old Police Station in the ghetto having to seek the help of the serious criminals in their cells as they come under seige from surrounding villains, little has remained from the original, some to it's betterment and some to it's detriment. Director Jean Francois Richet has certainly brought more of a European quality to what had been trigger-pumping bloodfest and the normal bunch of shrieking Americans clutching each other are noteworthy by their absence. Even so, thebasic1976 plot which had been so criticised for it simplicity, has been replaced with DeMonaco's contrived and illogical storyline. The idea that an entire Chicago Police SWAT team would be out to try to kill a top gangster (Lawrence Fishburn) after a silly dispute over how big their cut would be, really rings hollow and why the other Police, who have charge of him, choose to move him on New Year's Eve in a "snowstorm" that's just a joke to a Canadian, only to abandon the transfer in the middle of a ghetto makes no sense at all.
All the criticisms of the original have been clearly targeted with massively improved characterisation, better acting and some truly flashy camera angles to replace the dullness of the first, but gone too is Carpenter's stirring music to be replaced by some crummy Post-modernist rap and some background Musak from a Czech orchestra more used to backing Eastern Bloc Bolshevik dramas at the Eastern Front.
It is the quality of the characters in a seige drama that makes all the difference, yet in Assault, the quality of the acting amazingly imbalanced, with quality of performance having little connection to the importance of the role. For instance, a minor role is that of the Police psychiatrist who is inadvertently trapped there when he car breaks down. Maria Bello creates a magnificent image of the suited professional pillar of power, and yet who suffers herself from such deeply riddled insecurity that she suffers acute psychiatric disorders such as Obsessive Compulsive behaviour. Inspite of this, her transformation to a person of such true bravery at the end is so overwhelming that when she dies, you just want to jump up and scream "No, no, NO! This can't be!" at the screen. She's a character you truly want to see live and care about, thanks to a performance that is way beyond that of Oscar-worthy for a "B" movie flick that doesn't deserve it to the point of being almost embarrased by it. LIkewise, the first five minutes show clearly why Ethan Hawke is worth the cash they pay him in a truly astonishing demonstration of thesbian talent. Countering all the great acting are Gabriel Burnes as the bad head of the SWAT unit who permanently looks as if he was just trying to squeeze in a couple of minutes on set inbetween appearing in "proper" movies, and his prey, poor Laurence Fishburne. Despite all the brooding and tough talk, one just can't think of him as anything other than one's favourite uncle, who spends most of his spare time helping at the local Lion's Club. Maybe it's just the result of seeing him in Matrix movies, but one just can't believe him when openly admits to all these crimes and he keeps giving the impression of a guy too nice to have done all this stuff. Perhaps he'd do better in a Disney singalong flick alongside some cartoon stuffed animals.
Complete with the loveable horny secretary (Drea de Matteo), the 109 minutes fly by with action offset by occasional humour such as,
- Cop (to criminal): Your eyes look red. Have you been on the crack again?
- Criminal (to cop):...And your eyes look glazed. Have you been on the donuts again?
Indeed, the action sequences almost seem an irritating interruption at times. Sadly, Demonaco has replacesd Carpenter's predictable flat ending with a predictable silly and illogical one - one moment, they're under seige in a ghetto without a tree for miles, next second, they''re running through the woods. Likewise, the much mooted Armoured Vehicle is taken out, not by a rocket-propelled grenade launcher, but by a studio accountat's budget cut and never even appears on set.
Lacking the social commentary of the original, the pathos of the collapse of hope in the ghetto and it's poignance, such as when the condemned prisoner who has saved everyone's life in the seige, is taken away afterwards to be put to death, the remake reminds one of that of "Dawn Of The Dead" - an all-round improvement on quality, except for that one dimension that made the low budget original such a cult in the first place.
Worth seeing just for Maria Bello's sparkling performance alone
Film Critic: - Robert L Thompsett