A juicy premise, a powerhouse cast, and energetic direction combine for a satisfying thriller about a police station under seige. It’s a big-budget remake of John Carpenter’s 1976 film of the same title. Carpenter wrote, produced, edited, and scored the film with a cast of unknowns for $100,000. This version does not have the original’s raw power, but it substitutes a tough, sharp script and glossy production values, and gets the job done just fine.
Ethan Hawke plays Jake Roenick, a cop now working a desk job after an undercover operation he was directing went wrong and two officers were killed. Jake is uncooperative with the mandatory therapy, though drawn to Alex, his pretty therapist (Maria Bello). He is still taking painkillers, though it is not clear whether it is physical or psychic pain they are supposed to numb.
It’s New Year’s Eve and the last night for the old police station at Precinct 13. All of the equipment and computers and staff have been moved to the new location. Jake, along with Iris (Drea De Matteo), a miniskirted secretary who has a weakness for “bad boys,” and Jasper (Brian Dennehy), a veteran cop just short of retirement are there to finish shutting everything down, toast the new year, and turn out the lights.
Meanwhile, Marion Bishop (Laurence Fishburne), the deadliest crime kingpin in town, has just been captured. As he and a varied group of bad guys are being transported by bus to a holding facility, it gets trapped in the snow right outside the old police station. So they decide to keep the prisoners there until the next morning.
And then they get attacked. The attackers want Bishop. Everyone in the station is at risk. Before the night is over, loyalties and alliances will shift a dozen times as cops and prisoners and bystanders have to constantly realign their forces to try to stay alive.
It is that fluidity of relationships that gives this story extra energy and sizzle that takes it beyond the usual shoot-out and explosion-movie standard. Star power helps a lot, too, with Fishburne, Hawke, and Gabriel Byrne giving depth and wit to their roles and strong support from Bello and John Leguizamo.
Parents should know that this film has non-stop action violence with some very graphic injuries and many characters are killed. Characters use very strong language. There are some sexual references. Criminal characters include a drug dealer and killers. Characters drink and smoke and one abuses prescription drugs.
Families who see this movie should talk about how Jake’s earlier experiences affected his judgment — for better or worse — when the precinct was attacked.
Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Die Hard, Under Siege, The Rock, and Air Force One. They might also enjoy the 1976 original, directed by John Carpenter and the classic western Rio Bravo, which inspired it.