It’s Saturday in Anderson county, the last night before the 13th precinct police station is permanently relocated. The place is left in the care of Lt. Bishop, a character straight out of the best Blaxploitation, and he’s accompanied only by a couple of secretaries until a prison bus arrives with three prisoners, one of which is sick and he has to stay put somewhere. The other inmates are Wells, a black guy who’s always pissed off, and Napoleon Wilson, a death row convict who’s quite the charismatically badass antihero. Things heat up when a middle-aged man runs into the station shit-scared, chased by the worst street gang in all of Los Angeles. Thus begins a night-long siege during which cops and criminals will have to unite forces against the crazy kids who want to wipe them out.
This ain’t no revolutionary plot, but it’s executed with furious energy inversely proportional to the size of the budget. This is kind of the B-movie missing link between Howard Hawks’ “Rio Bravo” and “Die Hard”. Like in those films, writer-director-composer John Carpenter sets up a desperate situation in which a few individuals are forced into a siege, isolated and outnumbered, with only their wits to find a way to even the odds (this usually involves blowing shit up). “Assault on Precinct 13” doesn’t reach the brilliance of those films, but it is notable for the awesome anamorphic cinematography, the kinetic camerawork and editing, the infinitely cool score and the highly quotable dialogue:
Police chief – “There are no heroes – only men who follow orders.”
Cop – “You’re not a psycho, you’re not stupid…”
Napoleon – “I’m an asshole, don’t take everything from me.”
Secretary (as she’s making coffee) – “Black?”
Lt. Bishop – “For more than 30 years.”
Plus this exchange that Quentin Tarantino ripped right off in his own siege movie, “From Dusk till Dawn”:
Napoleon – “Still have the gun?”
Leigh – “Two shots. Do I save it for the two of us?”
Napoleon – “Save it for the first two assholes that come through this vent.”
The one thing that’s underwhelming is the bad guys. It’s scary that the protagonists are surrounded by so many faceless, bloodthirsty assailants, then again they’re such idiots! You have to see them run to a certain death one after another! For example, you have Bishop behind a window with a shotgun. A thug comes in, he gets shot, then three other dumbasses do the exact same thing and all die! Still, the film remains quite suspenseful, not to mention stylish and full of attitude!