Assault On Precinct 13 is less of a remake of John Carpenter’s balls out, guerilla action treatise and more of a branch off into timeless, near western archetypes, as well as the good old siege thriller format. It’s also one of the meanest, grittiest cop films of the last few decades, deserving a higher rung on the ladder of adoration than it has so far ascended to. Dark, merciless and full of yuletide gallows humour, it’s a searing blast of gunfire and snowbound pulp starring a roster of fired up talent, starting with an intense Ethan Hawke and an unpredictable, predatory Laurence Fishburne. Fishburne is Marion Bishop, a legendary criminal kingpin wrapped tight in police custody and shipped off to a remote precinct on New Years eve with a busload of fellow prisoner transports. The station is run by a few relaxed cops, all preparing to punch that clock and get the New Year’s festivities underway. Unfortunately, a gang of corrupt detectives have other ideas, descending upon the ill guarded outpost with the fury and firepower of animals set loose, determined to murder everyone inside and level the place to the ground in order to cover up their actions. Hawke is the veteran cop with a dodgy undercover past, blessed with the grit and gristle necessary to rally the troupes and self preserve til the morning light. Drea De Matteo, who’s awesome and welcome in anything, is a tough female sergeant, Maria Bello the sharp police psychiatrist caught in the middle, Brian Dennehy the salty old dog, and a laundrey list of rabid felons who pitch in to save their own asses, including Ja Rule, Aisha Hinds, Currie Graham and a wired up John Leguizamo. Together they all make a veritable wild bunch to hold down the fort, but the forces they’re up against are tactical and terrifying. The opposition is headed up by a dangerously quiet Gabriel Byrne as deeply a corrupt Police Captain, doing a coiled viper rendition of a Christopher Walken villain, his work one of the strongest aspects of the film. Watch for Matt Craven and Kim Coates in brief cameos as well. The action is a ballistic blitzkrieg of firefights, standoffs and ditch efforts, scarcely giving the audience time to breathe, let alone tally up the casualties, of which there are many. This ain’t no cakewalk, in terms of action films. It’s down, dirty and has no time for quips, smart mouths or villains that monologue. Everyone involved in a caged animal prepared to go to extremes at the drop of a hat in order to achieve their goals, with kneejerk reactions and off the cuff violence that feels real, and cuts deep. If you are serious about your action films, and enjoy ruthless, non patronizing narratives that get as cold as the snow drifts surrounding the precinct and as casually indifferent as the bullets that ventilate it, this is your ticket.
Swordfish tries so hard to be cool, and save for a few moments of smirking silliness, it is pretty goddamned cool. The early 2000’s still carried lingering, reminiscent elements of the 90’s, the super cyber hacker archetype included. The cyber hacker is played by two types of people: basement dwelling, Mountain Dew drinking chatter boxes and virile, sexy supermodels. The latter is employed here, personified by Hugh Jackman as Stanley, a sly devil who can hack into almost anything effortlessly, but has been caught and never allowed to touch a computer again. Enter Gabriel (John Travolta), a silver tongued arch villain out to steal all the money and priceless artifacts he can hope to ever own. Although Travolta isn’t as truly off the rails as in some of his villain roles, the amiable charm he puts forth here is but a ruse to cloud the monster beneath. He’s a very bad man, putting Stanley’s loved ones in jeopardy and forcing him to work computer wizardry for ill gotten riches. Gabriel has a girlfriend named Ginger (Halle Berry, never sexier) who walks a moral tightrope between the two alpha males, torn between roguish indifference and and her conscience. Stanley is also hounded by an FBI Agent (Don Cheadle), with whom he has a tumultuous past. The film resists goin completely by the motions, lulling you just to the border of entropy and then throwing something surprising from a direction you didn’t look in. My favourite scene of the film shows Travolta giving a monologue on bank robbery etiquette, complete with a reference to Sydney Lumet’s Dog Day Afternoon, confirming the fact that this flick has a strong script to go with its pyrotechnics. He flexes his sonic directorial muscles in an especially extraordinary action sequence involving a bus and a helicopter that will seriously make your finger hover over the replay button. Vinnie Jones is an ambassador of cool, in a lively turn as Gabriel’s head thug. Sam Shepherd has fun as a corrupt Senator. There’s also fine work from Zachary Grenier, Tim Dekay, William Mapother, Rudolph Martin and Drea De Matteo. Director Dominic Sena comes from music video land, having also helmed the priceless Nic Cage Bruckheimer-fest Gone in 60 Seconds, as well as the fallout brilliant psycho road thriller Kalifornia. Here he doses the flash and sizzle of 60 seconds with the hard hitting violence of Kalifornia, presented in a story guaranteed to raise a pulse. It’s also got pretty much the coolest poster of 2001. I dare you to find a cooler one, go ahead. Oh, and Travolta’s manscaping here deserves its own spinoff film.