The trouble with big-budget remakes is that more often than not, the films being updated for modern audiences necessitate little improvement. Rather than resurrecting and reconfiguring interesting failures, studio executives and second-rate directors instead subscribe to a lame-brained formula in which highly regarded classics and quirky genre films made by esteemed filmmakers are stripped of their unique character and thematic underpinnings, given a coat of cinematographic flash, populated with pretty actors, and simplistically streamlined so that only the basic plot structure is retained. Respect for tradition be damned, these bastardized versions trample on their precursors' venerable legacies as they pitifully attempt to parlay their predecessor's name-brand cache into box-office glory.

Such is the sorry story of Assault on Precinct 13, a reimagining of John Carpenter's 1976 genre gem (which, in turn, was modeled after Howard Hawks' Rio Bravo) about cops and criminals trapped in an old police station who are forced to work together to fend off a horde of murderous invaders. Directed by Jean-François Richet, the new film holds to that fundamental premise, though it tweaks virtually every important aspect of Carpenter's thriller for maximum vapidity. Now set in snow-bound Detroit on New Year's Eve (rather than in arid California), Richet's Assault switches the skin color of its leads - the police sergeant (Ethan Hawke's Jake Roenick) is now white, while the head criminal (Laurence Fishburne's mythic Marion Bishop) is black - and abandons Carpenter's astute portrait of uneasy, ready-to-explode racial tensions. In this version, the cops are Caucasian (including Brian Dennehy's Irish racist, who tellingly refers to the inmates as "those people"), the bad guys are African-American and Hispanic, and any friction generated from such divisions is swept under the rug in favor of ratcheting up the ho-hum action.

Continue reading: Assault On Precinct 13 (2005) Review