Film — Assault on Precinct 13 (R)

Assault on Precinct 13 (R)

by Amy Diaz

Ethan Hawke auditions for future tough guy roles with Assault on Precinct 13, a tale of cop vs. cop that allows for plenty of swearing, shooting, drinking and posturing.

I’m guessing that if you put out a couple of novels in your younger years, as Hawke did, you may later have a hard time getting quite as many shoot-em’-up tough-guy roles as you need to keep your checkbook balanced. Also, playing the sensitive ironic alternadude (Before Sunrise; Reality Bites) isn’t exactly going to carry you through your 40s. Gotta go somewhere, might as well be cop-land. The sun always shines on a movie filled with the cop-with-layers roles. And, if the big screen ain’t where it’s at, there’s always a life on television. NYPD Blue, The Shield, Law & Order, any of 100 iterations of CSI — all of these shows could get a big ratings boost from and give a career boost to an actor with the ability to furrow a brow and look complex.

Hawke showed some ability at this in Training Day. But the fact that that movie was really more about what a wicked good time Denzel Washington was having playing the rare evil character could have obscured Hawke’s cop abilities from really reaching out to the right casting people. So that brings us to why Ethan Hawke decides to pare himself down to nothing but wiry muscle, scraggle up his appearance and practice taking realistic-looking gulps out of a bottle of hooch. He needs, as I mentioned before, an audition tape for playing a “tough guy” or a “world-weary veteran” or a “jaded cop with a good heart.”

What question this doesn’t answer is why everybody else — Laurence Fishburne, John Leguizamo, Maria Bello, Gabriel Byrne, Ja Rule, Drea de Matteo and Brian Dennehy — decided to show up to film this by-the-numbers cops and crooks versus cops who are crooks action snack food.

All the fun begins when a criminal named Marion Bishop (Fishburne) ballsily kills a dirty cop during the middle of a Catholic mass. When he is captured, Bishop — unflappable in his overcoat and seemingly more concerned with his crossword puzzle than his impending prison term — tells his lawyer that jail, even overnight, is no good for him. We quickly find out (and the trailers have told us anyway) that his prisonphobia is because his partners in crime are police officers. Led by Marcus Duvall (Byrne), these cops need to get to him before the legal system does.

Enter Jake Roenick (Hawke), a jaded world-weary police sergeant with a good heart. He’s been floating through his last eight or so months at a desk job, the result of a shot leg and a badly bruised psyche from an undercover operation that went bad. He’s passing New Year’s Eve at the soon-to-be defunct Precinct 13 with secretary Iris (de Matteo) and an old-timer nearing retirement named O’Shea (Dennehy). A snowstorm also strands Roenick’s shrink, Alex (Bello), at the nearly empty patrol house.

The storm is, in fact, so bad that it causes the prison bus carrying Bishop along with a few other prisoners to a holiday lock-up to take an unscheduled stop at the precinct ‘til the weather clears. “’Til the weather clears” turns out to be code for “until the dry cops can show up and kill everybody,” which they do in short order. Show up, that is — the killing everybody takes longer because Jake, though he’s upset at Bishop’s cop-killing ways, is a Good Cop At Heart. He arms the motley bunch of crooks and civilians and together the small band attempts to safeguard the precinct until dawn’s rays signify their salvation.

Because, you know, dirty cops would never kill somebody during the daytime.

You or I or any of the 8-year-old children we know could have filled in this MadLibs plot (fill in the blank with an occupation for the potential love interest; fill in the blank with an ethnicity and a type of criminal activity). And the directing seems very centered on the one-trick-pony of showing someone getting shot in the head and then bleeding into the snow. (Oooo, artsy.)

But let’s take a moment to look at some of the other, less obvious aspects of the movie. First, there’s Fishburne, a decent actor who has so clearly become the poor man’s Samuel L. Jackson. Unable to throw off the crazy-eyes and preacher-like shouting as well, he goes for the subsurface boil and, truthfully, it works. Good on ya, Fishburne. Now go get a better job before you get stuck always being the third guy on the call list.

Then there’s de Matteo, once Adriana on The Sopranos. Since her whacking in the last season, she has turned her sights to the shiver-inducing Joey and now this. I understand that a girl’s gotta eat, but let’s hope that she makes better choices in the future.

Lastly, allow me to introduce you to Aisha Hinds. Hinds plays Anna, a character whose only purpose is to say a few sassy things and then get killed. But I like Anna and I like Hinds. At one point, she gives perfect delivery of an eye-roll—not too sarcastic, not too stagy, just very “pshhhh, whatever.” It’s nice. Hinds, who actually had a reoccurring roll on The Shield (Annie Price) as well as bit parts in a few other cop shows, might be able to use this clip to prove herself in action movies. And then, just like Hawke, she too can make this movie worthwhile by gaining other work from it.

- Amy Diaz

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