Assault On Precinct 13 is a remake of John Carpenter’s cult classic from 1976, but it’s so far removed from it in tone and spirit that it’s almost as if they’re two different movies. Carpenter’s 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, Carpenter’s movie had cops joining up with their prisoners against a vengeful street gang. The movie was tense and brutal and Carpenter didn’t 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.

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. Today’s 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 it’s much longer, pointlessly longer. Instead of Los Angeles, we’re in an urban wasteland area of Detroit on New Year’s Eve while a blizzard is raging. When filmmakers have to go for hoary cliches like blizzards, you know you’re 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 Year’s Eve some cop buddies gather together for one last hurrah. There’s a young cop (Ethan Hawke, who’s actually not that young) with deep, dark problems (he shot the wrong people or something like that). There’s a gruff old curmudgeonly cop nicknamed “Old School” (Brian Dennehy). And there’s a sexy, vulgar precinct secretary (Drea de Matteo), willing to hump a chair, it seems. And for good measure, Hawke’s 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. They’re led by Gabriel Byrne, a cop-on-the-take. He doesn’t want the big drug kahuna to testify talk about his own dirty dealings. Seems he’s been tracking Fishburne in the snow. And that’s 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 can’t always make ‘em good.

What the heck has happened to Robert De Niro? Look, I’m glad the guy’s 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 Niro’s 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. That’s 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 he’s 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 couple’s young daughter to the woods. No, seriously, they move to the country. She’s 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, there’s 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 movie’s 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 Rosemary’s 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, don’t worry. At the showing I attended, almost everyone else in the theater was laughing, too.

William Shakespeare wrote that politics makes strange bedfellows, but I gotta tell ya, there’s a doozy on the home-viewing horizon. I never thought I’d ever write this sentence, but there’s a movie being released on DVD that offers up the question: was Adolph Hitler gay? For homosexuals and lesbians everywhere, you hope the answer is a sharp NO WAY, JOSE. I mean, come on, bad hair, bad moustache, bad décor. He couldn’t possibly have been gay. Of course, he did have a thing for uniforms. Those SS outfits had a certain style. But if he were gay, take a bit of pity the gay image: with friends like Hitler, who needs enemies. The movie’s called The Hidden Fuhrer: Debating The Enigma Of Hitler’s Sexuality.

The truth is that when Strand Releasing offered up this tidbit I thought it was a spoof movie, sort of like Spinal Tape Goes To The Rhineland. But amazingly, it’s real. In 2001, German historian Lothar Machtan published a book making the case that Hitler was a homosexual. Filmmakers Fenton Bailey, Randy Barbato, and Gabriel Rotello have come up with a documentary look at the possibility that Hitler did a lot more than liked the way his soldiers marched. The filmmaking trio even interview author Machtan. He was bitterly attacked when his book came out, and he defends his thesis, writing style, and honor on camera. The gist of the argument for Hitler being a homosexual is multi-faceted. Here’s the pitch. Hitler had intimate friendships with men, carried on myriad near-chastity relationships with women (somewhere Eva Braun is confused), had high-level dealings with powerful German gays, battled gay rumors when he was growing up, and, now here’s my favorite, he had an obsession for art and opera. All that’s missing is a fixation to scour the kitchen sink and you just know the guy’s a homo. Hitler was a failed artist as a young man and if liking Wagner makes you guy, well, that makes a lot of people gay.

I watched The Hidden Fuhrer with an open mind, but couldn’t help notice the stacked deck. As a film, it’s actually well-made and breezy and rather entertaining. As political intrigue, it’s a good mystery. But as truth? I still don’t know if Hitler was gay, even after watching the thing twice. What he was was nuts. Meanwhile, on the American side of the closet door, according to some people, it turns out that Abraham Lincoln might have been gay, or at least bisexual. Somebody’s written a new book entitled The Intimate World Of Abraham Lincoln that explores the possibility that our sixteenth President liked guys. I’ll wait for the movie. By Michael Calleri
ALT Movie Editor

In last week’s Buffalo Alternative Press, a layout error resulted in quite a number of paragraphs in Short Takes disappearing into the vapor and seriously truncating reviews of two major Hollywood commercial films. Because it’s a slow movie week (fortune smiling), here again, and hopefully intact, are the reviews of Assault On Precinct 13 and Hide And Seek.