Saturday, March 10, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—Assault on Precinct 13 (1976) ***½

R, 91 min.
Director/Writer: John Carpenter
Starring: Austin Stoker, Darwin Joston, Laurie Zimmer, Martin West, Tony Burton, Charles Cyphers, Nancy Loomis

There’s something about B-movies that makes them somewhat untouchable to criticism. They’re audacious, and it’s hard to argue against that. It doesn’t matter if the dialogue isn’t quite award material, or if the movie isn’t lit especially well. There’s a rawness to them that can’t be matched by any amount of production value.

John Carpenter’s original “Assault on Precinct 13” doesn’t have stars. It doesn’t have great character development. It doesn’t have a complex plot. But it is filled with heart. It’s passion for what is essentially an exploitation flick more so than a message movie, but its spirit is palpable. This is the type of movie a filmmaker like Ed Wood would’ve made if he didn’t have his bad ideas to trip over in the process.

The movie involves a night at a police precinct building that is being shut down for good the next morning. A rookie lieutenant is assigned to watch over the skeleton crew on its final night. A group of high security transfer convicts gets housed in the precinct in an unscheduled stop. Then, all hell breaks loose.

I think my favorite part of this movie is the reason why the precinct comes under siege. Unlike the modern remake starring Ethan Hawke as the rookie cop and Laurence Fishburne as the high security criminal being housed in the dead precinct so a police corruption can be covered up by a devious orchestration of the siege, the catalyst for the original’s siege really has nothing to do with any of the people inside the precinct. They are just victims of the degenerating climate of civility surrounding the Los Angeles suburb community of Anderson.

Instead, a gang avenging the deaths of some of their members with the brutal murder of a little girl instigates the violence here. Her father’s vengeance brings the gang’s violence to the understaffed precinct building. This is bold plotting with only the spilling of innocent blood given as reason for its exaggerated look at the deterioration of American life. The brutal death of the girl would prevent this approach from being attempted today, but sometimes a simpler approach makes for more effective filmmaking.

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