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Just like a shoot-'em-up B Western

THE BALTIMORE SUN

There ought to be a law limiting how much hooey a movie serves up.

Assault on Precinct 13 asks you to believe that one bad guy can kill another with a pen to the neck during Mass without anyone noticing; that cops would chase someone into a church, guns blazing, also in the middle of Mass; that a rogue SWAT team can attack a downtown building, guns still blazing, without anyone, not even local news crews, noticing; that 75-year-old Tommy guns still sit, loaded, in big-city police stations; that there's a forest smack dab in the middle of the most derelict section of Detroit.

Sorry, that's just too much for anyone to swallow.

Poor Ethan Hawke (who can only hope to be remembered for his role in the wonderful Before Sunset and not this) is Jake Roenick, a former narc who recently lost two comrades during a drug bust turned sour. Now a desk-bound, gimpy sergeant, he and two colleagues - an old guy about to retire (Brian Dennehy) and a sex-crazed secretary (Drea de Matteo) - are charged on this lonely New Year's Eve with closing down a precinct house.

But a busload of bad guys, including Marion Bishop, the worst criminal in all Detroit, opts to sit out a blinding snowstorm in its parking lot.

Once Bishop (a menacing Laurence Fishburne) arrives, the fun begins. Soon, a truckload of rifle-bearing commando types has pulled up outside. Everyone assumes they are Bishop's men, except Bishop, who knows better: They're really corrupt cops out to kill him before he spills his guts to some grand jury.

And so the shooting begins, with Roenick rediscovering a sense of purpose as he defends his lonely outpost. (Any resemblance between this and nearly every Western ever made is no accident, and, in fact, is the movie's greatest charm. But since it's a remake of John Carpenter's 1976 film of the same title, let's not give its makers too much credit.)

Whatever spark the newer Precinct 13 has comes from its supporting players. They include Maria Bello as Roenick's shrink who just happens to be on her way to a party wearing something slinky when she pays a New Year's Eve visit to her patient and John Leguizamo, a fast-talking junkie who shares a cell with Bishop. Wasted is Gabriel Byrne as the leader of the rogue SWAT team; to all appearances, he slept through the film shoot.

The movie may offer a bit of fun: a few cheers as the good guys prevail against all odds, some guessing as to who will be knocked off next. But you'll probably be too busy shaking your head at all the absurdities to notice.

Assault on Precinct 13

Starring Ethan Hawke, Laurence Fishburne, Maria Bello

Directed by Jean-Francois Richet

Released by Rogue Pictures

Rated R (strong violence and language, some drug content)

Time 109 minutes

SUN SCORE * 1/2

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