cast: Ethan Hawke, Laurence Fishburne, Gabriel Byrne, Maria Bello, and Drea De Matteo
director: Jean-Francois Richet
109 minutes (15) 2005
widescreen ratio 2.35:1
EIV DVD Region 2 rental / retail
reviewed by Debbie Moon
Undercover officer Jake Roenick loses his team in a bungled drugs buy. Months later, he’s hiding behind an injury to avoid going back into the field. But a New Year’s Eve spent packing up the closing Precinct 13 turns ugly when a prison bus seeking shelter from a snowstorm brings gangland boss Bishop into his custody, and masked gunman surround the decrepit, isolated building. With only a handful of officers and civilians to defend the place, Roenick is determined not to release Bishop to his rescuers – but is that what their attackers really want?
Hollywood rumour has it that when a famous director was offered Larry Cohen’s claustrophobic thriller Phone Booth, his first question was, “How do I get this ****ing story out of the phone booth?” It appears Richet felt much the same thing when beginning this remake of John Carpenter’s low-budget classic. An opening sequence setting up the hero’s past failure, frequent glimpses of the bad guys’ plans, and a denouement that abandons the building entirely for a chase through snowy woods all offer a broader story than the original,
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but sacrifices its tight focus. The bad guys’ motivations are far more complex, but their scheming hardly compare with the faceless, supernatural menace of Carpenter’s anonymous gang members. Even the principal criminal inside the precinct is softened from a psychotic killer to a strangely noble gangland kingpin, who obviously presents little threat to his captors.
However, there’s a great deal that’s good about the film, particularly if you’re not familiar with the original. Ethan Hawke and Lawrence Fishburne, as cop and criminal respectively, play off each other masterfully, Gabriel Byrne snarls to great effect as their nemesis, and the script even has fun with the old cliché of the cop on the verge of retirement (no, for once he doesn’t die tragically). Generally, the action is competent rather than original or ambitious, the twists not terribly taxing, and the shrill psychiatrist a little annoying, but the characters are engaging enough to keep you watching – and sometimes even on the edge of your seat…
Swapping visceral danger for gloss, claustrophobia for moral dilemma, this version lacks the intensity of the original, but it’s a decent, solid evening’s entertainment nonetheless.