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‘13’ gets lucky 

But has ‘Are We There Yet’ star Ice Cube melted?

HAWKE: Cop under pressure.
  • HAWKE: Cop under pressure.
These days, with serious drama and shoot-’em-ups often cross-pollinated the way they haven’t been since John Ford was a pup, a movie you’re certain is going to be about as substantial as a puff of gun smoke can surprise you. That was much the case for me with the remake of “Assault on Precinct 13.” Thanks in large measure to the talents of Ethan Hawke, Laurence Fishburne and Gabriel Byrne, “13” is one of those rare gun operas that keep you guessing until the last minute. Here, Ethan Hawke plays Sgt. Jake Roenick. A former narcotics cop who saw his whole team killed due to a split-second decision, Roenick is riding a desk eight months later, an oft-tapped bottle of whiskey in his drawer, a matchbox full of painkillers in his pocket, and a department shrink (Maria Bello) trying to stave off his inevitable implosion. To that end, Roenick has been stationed at the backwater Precinct 13. Situated in an area where most of the nearby buildings are abandoned or demolished, Precinct 13 is set to be razed on Jan. 1. New Year’s Eve finds the building on a skeleton crew with Roenick, station receptionist/nymphomaniac Ivy (Drea de Matteo, given Hollywood reincarnation after being sent to sleep with the fishes on “The Sopranos” last season), and old-timer Jasper (Brian Dennehy) holding down the fort as a fierce blizzard howls outside. The fun begins when a prisoner transport bus carrying the infamous gangster Marion Bishop (Laurence Fishburne) and various other no-counts is driven off the road by the storm. With Bishop locked up at Precinct 13 and on his way to talk to prosecutors in the morning, his old pals come calling — a squad of crooked cops, led by Byrne, who are there to make sure Bishop never talks to anyone about their under-the-table dealings. Unlocking the cells and raiding the evidence locker for weapons, Roenick and Bishop resolve to hold out until dawn. With the majority of the film set in the confines of the precinct building — and with the cast of characters so at odds — “13” quickly becomes a pressure cooker, a rat trap of a film that falls handily in line with claustrophobic fare like “Alien” and “Die Hard.” Without as much room to move around in as either of those films, you do get a little tired of the same set-pieces shot after shot; but, overall, I didn’t notice it much. Hawke, Fishburne and Byrne do good work here. With backstory jettisoned for the sake of speed, it’s often up to them to say all we need to know in a line. (As when Byrne is asked by one of his comrades how they are going to live with themselves after killing Roenick to get at Bishop. “I can live with that a lot better than a cellmate,” Byrne intones.) They pull it off handily. This ain’t “King Lear,” folks, but fans of the genre should be pleased. — By David Koon There’s nothing more tragic than seeing tough guys gone soft. Leather-clad “Wild One” Brando becomes rotund and weird old Brando. “Jailhouse Rock” Elvis becomes Sequined Jumpsuit Elvis. Darth Vader becomes a snarky little kid, and then some too-pretty goob with a rattail. Which brings us to Ice Cube. Cube, we knew you well back in the NWA, AK, straight-outta-Compton-betta-make-way days. Then, the other morning, we flip over to Nickelodeon and see you wearing a golf shirt — a pink golf shirt. Oh, the weeping and gnashing of teeth was intense. OK. We know the only way to stay young and beautiful is to die young and beautiful, so we’ve got to give Ice Cube props for trying to grow himself into a bankable movie star and grow old too. In his latest attempt, “Are We There Yet?” Mr. Cube tries to hit the younger demographics by starring and producing a family-styled comedy. Sadly, it’s a film that never quite makes its mark. The plot: Former semipro baseball player and confirmed bachelor Nick (Ice Cube) gets shot by the arrow of Eros when he beholds the hot bod of Suzanne (Nia Long), whose office is across the street. He soon attempts to engage Suzanne in witty repartee hoping to get her digits. Standing in the way of bliss: Suzanne’s school-aged son and daughter (Philip Bolden and Aisha Allen), two baaaaaaaad little kids who pelt potential suitors with whipped-cream bombs, water balloons and other projectiles whenever they come calling on Suzanne. But some men will do just about anything to score, and Nick befriends Suzanne, going so far as to chaperone her little so-and-sos on a trip that will reunite them all for the New Year. The trip goes off predictably with a series of mean-spirited physical pranks hatched by the two kids that leave Nick’s physical well-being in dire straits and his luxury SUV totaled. We like a good prank as much as anyone, but here, the hijinks were so unnecessarily mean-spirited — and the delivery of them so garishly over-the-top — that the “feel-good” ending was completely vapid. An attempt to appeal to the youngsters with an animated character, a talking Satchel Paige dashboard doll (voiced by Tracy Morgan), was freaky at best, sad at worst. One bright spot was the few (so sadly few) scenes of comic debate over the musical tastes of Nick and kids. Nick, keeping it real, puts modern rap on the speakers: “Who’s that?” asks one kid. “50 Cent” answers Nick. “I’ll give him a dollar if he shuts up,” retorts kid, who then demands “The Hamster Song.” A cameo from Nichelle Nichols (as in the super-sexy-mini-skirt wearin’ Lieutenant Uhura from the ’60s “Star Trek” series) as a licentious church-going babysitter also gave us some droll retro-snickers. If a road-trip comedy is what you want, stick with classics like National Lampoon’s “Vacation” or go with the more recent “Road Trip.” And if it’s Ice Cube you dig, rent “Boyz n the Hood,” or the “Friday” movies, which are hysterically gaudy, ghetto-fabulous and celluloid proof that Ice Cube is more than just a rapper-gets-a-movie flash in the pan, a la Ja Rule. When it comes to Cube’s latest venture, “Are We There Yet?” just never got there. By Amy Brawner and David Koon
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