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The Death of the Incredible Hulk

Director: John Carpenter

USA - 1976

    Hoff! Hoff!     

----

Los Angeles.
“Breaker 1, do you have Prince Albert in a can? Over.”

The problem with street gangs has gotten out of control. There are too many thugs and not enough cops. Because of this, the overworked police force has resorted to a “shoot first, ask questions later” brand of justice. Naturally, this causes a bit of friction between law enforcement and the targets of their frustration. When a large supply of automatic weapons turns up missing, one brilliant journalist reports that it would not be a happy day if said firearms were to fall into the wrong hands. Needless to say, the guns do, in fact, fall into the wrong hands. Specifically, they fall into the hands of an infamous group of hooligans called “Street Thunder”, a gang of psychotics who have no problem with killing or being killed. Considering that they’re such a happy, go-lucky bunch, it’s too bad the name “Get-Along Gang” was already taken.

Meanwhile, recently promoted police lieutenant Ethan Bishop awaits his first assignment. Dreaming of grandeur, Bishop hopes to land a challenging task through which he can prove his merit. He instead gets stuck babysitting the dilapidated Precinct 13 overnight. Having relocated the majority of his staff and inventory to a new building, the station’s captain now needs an evening away from the office to put his personal affairs in order. Lt. Bishop’s job should merely entail answering the phone and guarding the few remaining boxes - not exactly the challenge he had hoped for.

At a nearby prison, three convicts are prepared to be transported from Hazard County Jail to high-falutin’ Death Row. Two of the cons are nothing out of the ordinary. The third, however, is the notorious Napoleon Wilson. Why is he so notorious? I have no idea. But the movie tells us he’s notorious, so just learn to accept it. What’s expected to be a routine transport, however, turns out to be anything but. Halfway through their long trek, one of the convicts becomes seriously ill, and the officer-in-charge decides that the afflicted should be quarantined before his cooties spread. The nearest police station, conveniently enough, happens to be Precinct 13.

Just a hop, skip and a jump away, a young girl and her doting father drive through a particularly unsavory part of the city. Hopelessly lost, Dad stops at a nearby telephone booth for some navigational tutelage. The young girl spots an ice cream truck nearby. After getting parental guidance, our young heroine trots over to the ice cream man and requests her favorite dairy treat – vanilla swirl (which is, I guess, vanilla swirled with, uh, more vanilla?). She gets her cone and heads back to the car. After having discovered that she’s been dealt the wrong ice cream flavor, the perturbed young girl returns to the truck. This time she finds the driver lying face-first in the street, a gang of armed thugs surrounding him. “I asked for vanilla swirl!”
"Geez, I was just kidding about putting you on the
Montgomery Wards' mailing list!"

The youngster protests, and is immediately blown away for her trouble. The unfazed gang members then return to their car and speed away. Soon thereafter, Dad discovers the bodies. With his dying breath, the ice cream man instructs the bereaved father as to where the revolver is hidden in his truck. Quickly, the enraged parent takes the gun and gives chase. Dad soon catches up to the street thugs and they exchange gunfire. Though he succeeds in killing his daughter’s murderer, Dad, unfortunately, runs out of bullets before he runs out of bad guys. He takes flight, the remaining gang members hot on his heels. Ironically enough, the first place he encounters is Precinct 13 (if this were the real world, he would’ve found a Starbucks first, but I digress). Dad runs in, manages to tell the desk clerk that he’s being followed, then succumbs to deep shock and falls to the floor helpless. Meanwhile, outside, the gang members call for reinforcements, having apparently decided to not only kill the man who gunned down their buddy, but to avenge all their business associates who have been obliterated by the police as of late. They plan to make an example of Precinct 13.

Inside, the new lieutenant begins scrambling to prepare against the inevitable siege. Left with only a handful of police officers, a limited cache of weapons, some administrative staff (Quick! Man the staplers!), and three prisoners one having a renowned knack for killing folks himself - Ethan Bishop has, in fact, found himself in a position to prove his merit, just not under the circumstances he had envisioned.
Few gangs are more feared than that of Michael Winslow, Eddie Rabbitt and Bryan Adams.

Assault on Precinct Thirteen is classic John Carpenter. For one thing, it’s one of Carpenter’s first films, so it’s old. ba-doom-boom-ching! But seriously folks, AoPT adeptly displays all the classic trademarks of a Carpenter film: incredibly evil villains, high-octane action sequences, and a Plissken.

The story is simple. As a matter of fact, my plot summary is probably more elaborate than the script itself. But that’s irrelevant, considering the story is there simply to facilitate the ass-kicking. Assault on Precinct 13 is all about some ass-kicking. Heck, the word “ass” is even in the title. The action is fast and furious, but it is not in the vein of, say, John Woo, Ringo Lamm or Nora Ephron. AoPT has almost a Night of the Living Dead feel to it. We have people trapped in a building, surrounded on all sides by a seemingly endless supply of maniacs who will only be satisfied when everyone inside is dead. Carpenter exploits this simple scenario to its fullest; the claustrophobia of being trapped in a small office, every door and window possibly hiding some homicidal nutcase waiting just outside to kill you.
“Sir, I’m much too busy at the moment to check the station refrigerator for Prince Albert in a can.”

The characters, like the plotline, are also a bit flat. Ethan Bishop is the standard good cop with something to prove. Backing Bishop you have a small ensemble of expendables (i.e. people there just to be shot), a throwaway love interest, and Napoleon Wilson - the classic Carpenter anti-hero epitomized in Escape from New York by Snake Plissken (let’s just forget about that other Escape film). The Plissken is not exactly a nice guy (hence the moniker “anti-hero”), but he has a strong (albeit skewed) sense of justice, as well as an uncanny knack to enforce what he believes to be right. Simply put, he’s good at applying his boot to someone’s ass when the situation calls for it. The Plissken usually gets all the cool lines, too. AoPT has kind of a watered-down Plissken. When first introduced, Wilson (Darwin Joston, which is kind of funny in and of itself) struck me as a bit of a candy-ass. Being a candy-ass myself, I should know the type.

“Daddy, you’re not doing that lame
‘Prince Albert’ bit, are you?”

Anyway, I thought this guy just wasn’t going cut it as the wise-cracking, ass-kicking anti-hero. Surprisingly, Napoleon pulled it off in the final half; nothing spectacular, but sufficient. Think of it like The Matrix. Nobody buys Keanu Reeves as a god-like, kung-fu cyber-savior, but you’re willing to accept it because of the good film encompassing him. Come to think of it, I’d be hard-pressed to accept Keanu Reeves as anything outside a Whopper jockey from Burger King. At any rate, suspension of disbelief isn’t so hard to swallow when the movie is actually decent, and Assault on Precinct 13 is pretty good stuff.

“Whaddya mean, 'no rum raisin?!' ”

 

-- Copyright 2002 by J. Bannerman

 

   

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