Although its production values are a solid step up from the audaciously pieced-together Dark Star, John Carpenter's sophomore features remains another example of the director's ability to do more with less. Lean, frill-free, and focused on action, the film earns constant comparisons to Howard Hawks' Rio Bravo and George Romero's Night of the Living Dead. The differences are as illuminating as the similarities, however, for Assault on Precinct 13 lacks the socially conscious overtones of the Romero film and the tough-guy heroics of the Hawks one. That leaves tight plotting, tight-lipped dialogue, and a beautiful tableaux of breaking windows and bouncing bullets. The cast is supremely functional, for they aren't characters so much as pieces on a chess board, but with a minimum of fuss they embody the coiled fear and languorous boredom of life under intermittent siege -- especially Laurie Zimmer and Nancy Loomis as a pair of police secretaries. Though a few chuckles come during an early sequence in which the world's most annoyingly precious little girl gets her comeuppance, there's little explicit humor to leaven the proceedings. But the legion of B-movie biker villains and the sheer glee with which Carpenter choreographs his mayhem help make Assault on Precinct 13 first and foremost a popular entertainment. Considering that it was filmed for a fraction of what it costs to shoot a high-concept Hollywood action flick 25 years later, this one really should be a film-school staple.