To protect and to serve

Every cop is a criminal in “Assault on Precinct 13”

Claire Joseph

.Although this is a B-action movie – very much in the vein of Carpenters’ other genre extravaganzas – there is more going on here than just entertainment fluff. While Hollywood would like you to believe that these types of films are just mindless drivel, there’s often more than meets the eye.

In this film’s case, stereotyping, particularly racial assumptions, are tossed upside down.

In this updated “Assault on Precinct 13,” New Year’s Eve marks the closing of both the year 2004 and Detroit’s run-down police Precinct 13.

Knowing that the precinct’s equipment has already been packed and sent away and that all emergency calls will be handled by other precincts, the few cops manning the understaffed station have already started to celebrate.

Unfortunately for this unprepared group, Michigan’s blizzard conditions force a prison bus transporting four inmates to stop at 13 for the night.

The criminals: a gang member (Aisha Hends); a hustler (Ja Rule); a junkie (John Leguizamo); and a well-dressed cop-killer, Marion Bishop (Laurence Fishburne), are locked up in the barren cells of Precinct 13.

Here we go again. We’ve got four minorities committing four stereotypical crimes.

When the precinct comes under attack by a group of corrupt white police officers who are trying to kill Bishop because he can incriminate them, a young white sergeant (Ethan Hawke), also stereotypically must save the day.

Haven’t we seen this before in “Training Day?” On the surface, it would appear so. But all is not what it seems in Precinct 13.

Hawke’s clean-shaven character is actually a depressed drug addict with a badge. When the precinct comes under fire, his backup is the gangster minorities.

This situation creates a mess of irony, forcing viewers to wonder whether the stereotypes Hollywood has fed them in films of the same genre are as clear as black and white in this film.

“Assault on Precinct 13” is trying to pump some ambiguity into Hollywood’s frequent stereotyping. Is it really saying anything significant? Maybe not, but at least it tried.