The unnecessary remake crushes what is the essence of the original. The first, low-budgeted Assault has a B-movie sensibility, a tight plot, short running time, and no preening movie stars. Todays big-budgeted Assault has movie stars galore, a plot that not only rambles and takes you away from the precinct house, but also borders on silliness, and its much longer, pointlessly longer. Instead of Los Angeles, were in an urban wasteland area of Detroit on New Years Eve while a blizzard is raging. When filmmakers have to go for hoary cliches like blizzards, you know youre in bad shape (or in a wet blanket version of Die Hard 2). Anyway, the precinct is going to close down for good, but on New Years Eve some cop buddies gather together for one last hurrah. Theres a young cop (Ethan Hawke, whos actually not that young) with deep, dark problems (he shot the wrong people or something like that). Theres a gruff old curmudgeonly cop nicknamed Old School (Brian Dennehy). And theres a sexy, vulgar precinct secretary (Drea de Matteo), willing to hump a chair, it seems. And for good measure, Hawkes shrink, played by Maria Bello, is hanging around. See, I told you, ludicrous.
So, by quirk of fate (and cheesy screenplay machinations), a captured mega-drug kingpin (Laurence Fishburne) arrives at the station house because the blizzard has forced his arresting officers to find shelter. There are some other baddies on the bus, including Ja Rule and John Leguizamo. Meanwhile, a bunch of other cops bad cops are planning an assault on precinct 13 to kill the drug lord. Theyre led by Gabriel Byrne, a cop-on-the-take. He doesnt want the big drug kahuna to testify talk about his own dirty dealings. Seems hes been tracking Fishburne in the snow. And thats the gist of this torpid, inane movie directed by Frenchman Jean-Francois Richet, who produces rap music in France for a living, a job to which he can always return. I hope. The shoot-outs are standard big gun scenes that prove nothing except the fact that Hollywood can make em loud, but cant always make em good.
What the heck has happened to Robert De Niro? Look, Im glad the guys making a living, but the intense and quirky actor from Taxi Driver, The Godfather II, and The King Of Comedy is starting to resemble one of those hacks who show up on television in an anthology program like The Love Boat. This time around, De Niros taken on Hide And Seek, a very dumb fright thriller with very dumb frights. Interesting sidebar, this is the first movie in the history of the movies ever entitled Hide And Seek. Thats what you think about while wasting your time on this drivel. De Niro is dreadful in this leaden effort, as are Elisabeth Shue, Amy Irving, Melissa Leo, Amber McDonald, Robert John Burke, Famke Janssen, and Dylan Baker, who plays a sheriff with the same laconic overtones he brings to everything else hes every played. The cast is wasted, and not in a good way. The key to the movie is the nutso behavior of a little girl, so read on.
De Niro is a psychologist whose wife kills herself in one of those over-the-top Hollywood suicide scenes. Daddy De Niro decides to take the couples young daughter to the woods. No, seriously, they move to the country. Shes played by Dakota Fanning. Her acting is almost as annoying as her name. So up in bucolic-land, actually upstate diary-farm wondrous New York State, strange things start happening as the kid creates an imaginary friend. Redrum indeed. Stephen King should sue. I should mention that the imaginary friend is named Charlie, and he/she/it starts wreaking havoc all over the place. Of course, theres no such thing as imaginary friends who can spray paint scary words on sheets or bang closet doors, so unless the daughter has discovered a malevolent Casper the ghost , oh please, the movies a crock. Director John Polson, who made the not very frightening Swimfan (about a teen girl stalker of a sleek high school swimmer) has no qualms about stealing from Rosemarys Baby (the greatest psychological horror movie ever made) or from The Shining (not bad, either). If you find yourself laughing every time Little Miss Fanning goes into her endless eyeball glistening, hard-staring routine, dont worry. At the showing I attended, almost everyone else in the theater was laughing, too.
From Strand Releasing, there are two new DVD home-viewing options. Crush is directed by Canadian Alison Maclean, who made the fascinating Jesus Son (with Billy Crudup) and Persons Of Interest. She has also helmed episodes of Sex And The City and Carnivale, two unique HBO programs. In Crush, which is about female power, vengeance, and retribution, two women on their way to interview a novelist are involved in a car crash. One of them is hospitalized in serious condition, and the other (Marcia Gay Harden) walks away unharmed and, seemingly, unscathed emotionally. She assumes her friends identity and decides to carry out the interview with the writer, who has a daughter Angela. Hardens character is soon staying too long at the fair. Seduction follows what the novelist assumed was just a friendship. His daughter is concerned that Hardens behavior borders on amorality. Is she a sociopath? Are women just as corrupt as men? More corrupt? Who owns the rights to duplicity and betrayal? The movie expertly examines the dark motives of the three main female characters Christina eventually returns to the mix. Its a tough little film, unsettling, and sinister. It was a much-talked about hit at film festivals in Cannes, Toronto, and Sundance.
The Special DVD Collectors Edition of Crush includes a new digital 16 x 9 transfer approved by director Maclean, as well as an interview with the director and a commentary track with Harden and Maclean. Also included is Macleans rarely-seen short film The Kitchen Sink and Crushs original theatrical trailer.
The Child I Never Was is a staggering work. Is there anyone who can watch it without being moved? Its a fictionalized account of the life of Jurgen Bartsch, who abducted, abused, tortured, and killed four schoolboys in Germany between 1962 and 1966. The chilling movie is written and directed by Kai S. Pieck and is based on a book by Paul Moor, who exchanged a lengthy series of letters with Bartsch, who was only 15 when he committed his first crime. The young mans real-life story is filled with documented incidents of unimaginable cruelty visited upon him. His adoptive parents were cold and severe. At Catholic boarding school, a priest terrorized him. Bartsch became the embodiment of Peter Pan. He truly did not want to grow up. Trapped in a world of make-believe and caught up in bewildering scenarios of being abused and then abusing on his own, Bartsch the teenager became a child of utter total rage with the impulse to kill controlling his personality. Bartsch never had a pleasing childhood, never had a normal everyday life. The German-language movie is as disturbing as Bartschs crime wave. The Child I Never Was won the Special Jury Prize at the Torino Film Festival, was an Official Selection of the Berlin Film Festival, and won the Best Foreign Film Award at Frameline The San Francisco International Lesbian And Gay Film Festival. Its a mesmerizing piece of filmmaking. By Michael Calleri ALT Movie Editor
From Hollywood, a couple of bloated commercial demons, and from the spirited independent film movement, two moody dramas light years in difference from what the big studios crank out.
Assault On Precinct 13 is a remake of John Carpenters cult classic from 1976, but its so far removed from it in tone and spirit that its almost as if theyre two different movies. Carpenters film itself draws from the John Wayne Dean Martin western Rio Bravo. Set in a nearly deserted police station in a wasteland area of Los Angeles, Carpenters movie had cops joining up with their prisoners against a vengeful street gang. The movie was tense and brutal and Carpenter didnt hesitate to knock off a little girl outside the station house just as she was complaining that the ice cream man gave her the wrong flavor.