Written and directed by John Carpenter, Assault on Precinct 13 details the violence that ensues after a gang of armed thugs attack a soon-to-be-closed police station (which is occupied by cops and civilians alike). It’s perhaps not surprising to note that Carpenter does a superb job of immediately capturing the viewer’s attention, as Assault on Precinct 13 is rife with the various touchstones one has come to expect from the prolific filmmaker – including a memorable, self-composed score and a decidedly distinctive visual sensibility. (The movie fares especially well in terms of the latter, as Carpenter delivers a sun-drenched, spare landscape that seems almost post-apocalyptic at times.) It’s clear that the movie is at its best within its deliberately-paced first half, as Carpenter does a superb job of cultivating an atmosphere of palpable suspense – with this vibe heightened by a series of tense subplots and digressions (including the now-notorious fate of a little girl looking for an ice cream cone). Once the titular siege rolls around, however, Assault on Precinct 13 has disappointingly morphed into a watchable yet far-from-engrossing actioner devoid of electrifying moments (ie the action is decent but, generally speaking, not terribly involving). The dearth of compelling, three-dimensional characters perpetuates the arms-length vibe, certainly, and it’s clear that the film’s violent climax is ultimately unable to pack the punch that Carpenter has obviously intended – which does, in the end, confirm Assault on Precinct 13‘s place as a seriously erratic early effort from an otherwise masterful filmmaker.
**1/2 out of ****