January 31, 2005 12:00 PM

Ethan Hawke, Laurence Fishbume, John Leguizamo, Maria Bello

Having played a rookie cop in Training Day (2001), Hawke has moved up to sergeant in this scorching police drama, a well-deserved promotion. Hawke gives an edgy, nuanced performance as emotionally fragile Jake Roenick, whose perilous task is to hold down the Action fort, literally, when his isolated police precinct building in Detroit is attacked by masked gunmen one snowy New Year’s Eve.

Assault on Precinct 13 is an astute updating of a 1976 cult film by director-writer John Carpenter, who in turn was inspired by Howard Hawks’s western Rio Bravo (1959). This new Assault, by French director Jean-Francois Ríchet, genuflects in passing to both earlier films but plays like a slam-bang contemporary thriller. It’s fast-paced and bullets-through-foreheads violent, but allows enough byplay between characters so that when one of them bites the dust (or survives), viewers care. Having a strong cast helps, including Brian Dennehy as a veteran cop, Fishburne as a crime kingpin temporarily helping Sgt. Roenick, and Bello as a police psychologist. This is a B movie—you’d really have to work to find greater meaning to it—but for what it is and what it’s trying to do, it scores a bull’s-eye.(R)

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