When I got word that somebody was going to remake the movie, I certainly thought the premise had potential for a modern setting. Happily, the finished product is pretty bad-ass, perhaps surpassing the original.
In a central role, Ethan Hawke continues to impress after Training Day and Before Sunset with another bold performance. I don't think there's another Hollywood entity who has improved as much as Hawke in the 10 years I've been reviewing movies. I seriously hated this guy (Reality Bites sucked!), and now he's one of my favorite actors. Go figure.
Hawke plays a sergeant who, after years of undercover work, winds up working a desk job at a soon-to-be-shut-down precinct. A New Year's Eve snowstorm results in a major mobster figure called Bishop (Laurence Fishburne, getting a chance for some better work after those lousy Matrix sequels) needing to spend the night due to a diverted prisoner transfer.
This is where the remake takes a major departure from the original. If you don't want to know the secret, skip ahead a few pages to the naughty personals. Rather than having faceless gang members attacking the precinct, it's crooked cops coming to kill Bishop before he testifies in court.
In addition to Hawke and Bishop barricaded in the precinct, you get two beautiful women (Drea de Matteo and Maria Bello), the crusty old timer who is about to retire (Brian Dennehy) and a collection of convicts that include John Leguizamo in full-on wormy mode. They all band together to try to keep the dirty cops out and see the New Year in without extra holes in their buttocks.
A nice sense of claustrophobia pervades the film, and the action offers a number of surprises that left me slightly stunned. Director Jean-Francois Richet is working with an updated screenplay by James DeMonaco that has no mercy for how nice or popular a character is. Lots of people die during the course of the film, and they don't die comfortably. In some ways, it makes the Carpenter original look all warm and fuzzy in comparison.
Hawke, so good in Training Day, does nicely again in super-heroic police-officer mode. His Sgt. Jake Roenick is flawed, feeling guilt-ridden after a drug bust gone bad that got his buddies killed and put a bullet in his leg. Pills and booze get him through the day, which makes his new role as ultimate protector for besieged police officers and enlisted criminals harder to pull off. Hawke does flawless work in pulling off the conflicted character, and there's nothing cliché about what he has done with this role.
It's been a while since Carpenter himself has produced anything much worth watching. It's good to see one of his old ones get a worthy revamping. That said, Hollywood better keep its dirty paws off of Escape From New York and The Fog! Uh oh ... just checked the Internet Movie Database, and it says The Fog is being remade with a release date sometime this year. The pillaging of Carpenter's closet has begun. Hopefully, future remakes will be as good as this one, but I doubt it.