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Lost in the translation

John Carpenter's first big splash in the film industry was 1976's Assault on Precinct 13, a gritty exploitation flick. The most interesting elements of that film appear to be missing from Jean-Francois Richet's R-rated remake, opening Wednesday nationwide.

For starters, the original version was definitely made for less money than two Academy Award-nominated actors in the remake command. Certainly Ethan Hawke (Training Day) and Laurence Fishburne (What's Love Got to Do with It) wouldn't settle for $100,000 total. With more money often comes less ingenuity, less raw energy.

There also doesn't seem to be the social commentary. Carpenter's film was a minor victory for African-American actors, casting Austin Stoker as the hero and not making a racial issue of it. Casting Hawke as a Los Angeles cop defending headquarters from urban terrorists is regressive by comparison. Casting Fishburne as a nasty mobster whose arrest ignites the attack also smacks of a throwback to less diverse thinking.

Even that reason for assaulting Precinct 13 seems bland compared to the vicious, almost random anger from inner-city types in the 1970s, tired of answering to "The Man." Carpenter was among the first directors of the film-school generation to honor the past by remaking it; Howard Hawks' Western classic Rio Bravo was his inspiration. Richet is essentially remaking a remake, and we'll publish a review of his success or failure Wednesday on Page 2B.

_ STEVE PERSALL, Times film critic