ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 reaches the commercial cinema after a triumphal progress through the Edinburgh and London Film Festivals. Devotees of DARK STAR will doubtless hasten to see this second film by American writer-director John Carpenter, which is even better than his first. Praise for Carpenter has tended to be excessive in recent months - he was compared to Howard Hawks at the London film festival and honoured with a prize - but there is no denying the wit and vigour of his films, or the carefree individuality that is a rare commodity in commercial film-making.
The story premise of ASSAULT is spectacularly improbable. An about-to-be-closed police station first becomes the staging post for a van-load of condemned killers en route to death row, then comes under siege from a gang of passing terrorists. A black policeman, a curvaceous white policewoman and one of the condemned men band together heroically, with gun and fist, as if they were defending the Alamo. The acting is rudimentary, the dialogue in cherishable Hollywoodese. But vitality vindicates many faults, and the extension of the honour-among-thieves ethic to solidarity between races (and across the law) is admirable in notion, if a trifle naive in presentation.