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Solid action, but an assault on logic

French director Jean-Francois Richet makes his US debut with “Assault on Precinct 13”, based on the 1976 movie of the same name directed by John Carpenter, which was reformed from “Rio Bravo,” a 1959 western directed by Howard Hawks.

Ethan Hawke (“Training Day”) stars as Jake Roenick, a former undercover cop, who runs a police precinct in Detroit that will soon be demolished. Hawke gets a meaty scene in the opening sequence, which establishes his current gun-shy situation and why he is taking alcohol and painkillers to dull the fear.

On New Year’s Eve, Roenick prepares to close down the precinct with his co-workers, played by Brian Dennehy, a veteran police officer, and Drea de Matteo, secretary and self-proclaimed compulsive sex-oholic, who has a thing for criminals. Maria Bello plays Jake’s psychologist, who will need some therapy herself after this all-night debacle where police and prisoners have to work together to “fend off the black hats.”

Gabriel Byrne stars as the main antagonist, Marcus Duvall, leader of a special team who reveals his evil motive when visiting notorious gangster, Marion Bishop, played by Laurence Fishburne. Duvall’s interest in Bishop drives the action and seals the intended fate of all the characters.

The main action focuses on Bishop’s prison transfer to Precinct 13, which seems realistic enough because of New Year’s Eve and a harsh winter storm. Other prisoners along for the ride include a seemingly innocent woman, a paranoid robber (played by John Leguizamo) and Smiley (played by rapper Ja Rule) who talks in the third person.

In this situation, Bishop predictably looks out for himself and does not help “unless it benefits me to jump in for the save.”

Bishop shows his fighting skills occasionally, while philosophizing and asserting his authority and expertise. You only get a sense of his character during the establishing scene in a church, where Bishop explains how he lost his faith after he saw his fallen brother’s pleas to God were unanswered. This night definitely tests his faith.

The story has some surprise turns and medium thrills, but plenty of action. Unfortunately, the story spends too much time repeating the obvious — yes, Roenick has a troubled past; yes, the female prisoner is innocent. As the secretary said, “Shut up, you said that already.”

Logistical miscues include tactical police, who apparently cannot smell with their masks on. Duvall also talks too much instead of finishing the job like he previously told his cohorts — “kill without pause, hesitation or regard.”

The final showdown should have used more tension (I’ve been in paintball wars that were more intense). Also, the preview gives away some of the story, but most audiences would have figured it out any way. This movie is well executed, but other comparable crime/standoff scenario films, like the 1992 film “Trespass,” work better.

Grade: C

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