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The film begins with Jake Roenick (Ethan Hawk), with his head shaved and body covered in tattoos, talking with a drug dealer and his accomplice. Roenick is an undercover officer. He wants to know if they have a deal, and the drug dealer's big dog is making him a bit nervous. Roenick also has a female partner that is in the room too, pretending to be bored. Roenick says that he has a dog too, and he calls in his partner, who is also undercover. The drug dealer's accomplice recognizes Roenick's partner because he testified at his brother's trial. He knows he's a cop and shoots Roenick in the knee. The drug dealer and his guy run out of the apartment that they were in, and the three undercover officers give chase. His male partner is shot to death, and his female partner is shot and killed by the drug dealer. Roenick blasts the drug dealer in the forehead and cries over his dead teammates.
8 months later Roenick is burnt-out. He has a drinking problem and takes painkillers to help ease the fact that he's responsible for his teammates' deaths. He drives to Precinct 13, and on the way we hear via his car radio that another bad storm is coming. Precinct 13 is in a nearly deserted part of Detroit and it will be shut-down shortly after New Years' Eve, which is that night. Capra (Matt Craven) and most of the other police officers are going home. The only people working the precinct are Roenick, Jaspers O'Shea (Brian Dennehy), and secretary Iris Ferry (Drea de Matteo), who has a thing for bad guys.
Meanwhile, elsewhere in Detroit, Marion Bishop (Laurence Fishburne) is in church, trying to complete a cross-word puzzle. A man comes in and sits next to him. The man is finding it humorous that Bishop asked him to meet in a church and asks him if he thinks God will make him tell the truth. Bishop tells him that he's seen too many people beg for God's mercy before being murdered that he's lost his faith in God. He then tells the man that his answer is "no". Bishop apparently doesn't want to do something the man wants, so the man pulls out his gun and orders Bishop to stand up. Bishop quickly stabs the man in the neck with a knife (which instantly kills him), takes his gun, and walks outside. Outside of the church is one of Bishop's men, but there are also two police officers there. The cops kill Bishop's guy and Bishop walks back into the full church and fires a bullet into the ceiling (so that the rushing people can block off the cops). Bishop runs out back, but is caught by the police.
The man he killed is a part of Marcus Duvall's (Gabriel Byrne) group. Duvall is head of the Police Special Forces unit. Duvall is not particularly happy about the situation. Since Bishop is caught, he plans on killing him later that night. Bishop knows this, and wants his attorney to get him moved to another precinct as soon as possible.
Back at Precinct 13, Roenick has an unexpected visitor, police psychiatrist Alex Sabian (Maria Bello). Alex has been seeing Roenick for some time now (due to his botched drug bust at the beginning). She notices that his leg is healed, but Roenick doesn't want to talk to her. He does say that he thinks that she is in love with him, but she maintains that she isn't. While leaving, Roenick steals her report on him. Roenick, Jaspers, and Iris thus begin to start the New Years' celebration by drinking and dancing. It is here that Jaspers tells them that he plans to retire soon. They toast to him and while Jaspers dances with Iris, Roenick goes to his office and reads the report he stole.
Officer Rosen (Kim Coates) herds some prisoners into a transport bus, with Bishop being the last prisoner boarded. Officer Halloway (Peter Bryant) drives the bus. The prisoners include hustler Smiley (Ja Rule), junkie Beck (John Leguizamo), and "innocent" gang-member Anna (Aisha Hinds). The roads are blocked due to a car accident, and since the storm has arrived, the officers are told that they can re-route to Precinct 13 until the storm clears. Roenick is not happy about having more people over because it means more responsibility.....but he lets them in anyway. All the while, no one notices that a black car followed the transport bus.
They get the prisoners locked up, while Rosen and Halloway go and join the celebration upstairs. Also, Alex shows up again due to car troubles. She confronts Roenick for stealing her file, and they get into an argument, which ends with her flat-out telling him that he's not alright and that he still blames himself for the death of his partners. The countdown for the new year begins, while at the same time Smiley and Beck get into a fight. It's officially 2005.
While Smiley and Beck struggle with each other, two masked men enter the precinct through the back. They stop fighting when they see the two guys, especially since they have silenced guns. Rosen, who heard them fighting, walks downstairs and demands what's going on. He sees the two men, draws his gun, but is shot three times. As he falls, he fires a bullet into the wall. Everyone upstairs hear this, and they promptly rush downstairs. The prisoners are freaking out and the bloodied Rosen lays on the ground. Halloway and Roenick give chase to the guys (who went out the back) while Irisi and Jaspers tend to Rosen. While outside, Halloway is shot in the stomach. Roenick drags him inside. When he gets inside, he finds that Rosen is dead.
They place Halloway on the couch upstairs and tend to his bullet-wound. Alex tries to call, but the phones don't work. The cell phones don't work either, and neither do their radios (which Jaspers deduces that they have been jammed by the guys outside). Halloway needs a doctor or else he's going to die. They see that other masked guys have surrounded the building. A rock is thrown through the window and has Bishop's name on it. Jaspers realizes that Bishop's men have come to bust him out.
Roenick decides to head outside himself and get to the transport bus, to see if he can get help. He sneaks out back, but is caught when he finds a masked man already in the bus. They struggle while another masked guy has a sniper rifle and tries to get a clean shot of Roenick. The guy pins Roenick down, and since it's so cold outside, there's icicles already forming under the bus. Roenick grabs an icicle and shoves it into the guy's eye, killing him. The sniper shoots but misses him. Roenick drags the dead guy's body to where he can't be shot and takes his wallet. He then runs back inside.
Roenick shows everyone what he took - a police officer's badge. Alex is freaking out since police officers are coming to kill them. Roenick suggests that they move Halloway away from the window, and while Roenick and Iris do this, Alex sees a lot of red lasers coming through the windows. When everyone else sees this, they scramble and hit the floor. Roenick and Jaspers then proceed to shut all the blinds so that the lasers can't get a target. They also barricade the windows and doors. Roenick then heads downstairs to talk to Bishop and tells Jaspers to keep an eye on the front door.
Bishop tells Roenick that he is a gangster and that one of his partners-in-crime is Marcus Duvall. Duvall can't allow Bishop to live because he will testify against Duvall and his group of corrupt officers. Roenick realizes that Duvall won't let any of them survive because they know who's attacking them now. And speak of the devil, Duvall arrives with another horde of guys.
Jaspers comes down and asks Roenick why the hell is he talking to Bishop. Roenick asks him why he isn't watching the front door. They lock Bishop back up and head upstairs. By this time Alex and Iris have also armed themselves. Duvall gives the order - the snipers who are on top of all of the building around Precinct 13 fire into the building with their machine guns. Everyone inside takes cover, then returns fire.
The officers outside then fire into the building with flash-bombs. All the while, down in the prisoner's cells the window explodes. Roenick hears this, and rushes downstairs. He blasts an officer away while the cellmates tell him that there's still another guy. Roenick kills him too. He then strips one of the dead guy's of their weapons and ammo, along with their vest. Beck wants to be let out, saying he has rights and whatever. Smiley definitely doesn't want to be there, while Bishop just calmly sits and hopes for the best. Roenick frees the prisoners and tells them to grab whatever weapon they can find. Anna grabs an old tommy-gun. Smiley grabs a baseball bat. Beck grabs a sword. Bishop grabs two alcohol bottles.
Some of Duvall's men enter the building secretly. One finds Alex hiding in the locker room, but before he can kill her Smiley whacks him with the baseball bat and proceeds to beat him with it, while Beck helps out and stabs the guy with the sword many times. Upstairs, two guys walk through the front door and block off all bullets heading towards them with a riot shield. Anna helps out by wounding one of the guys and forcing them to retreat. Bishop sneaks up behind a guy and throws his molotov cocktails at him, sending him running out of the building on fire. Beck takes the machine gun from the guy he killed and heads upstairs, where he fires out the windows. Duvall's men stop firing, and so do Roenick's group. Duvall's obviously not happy with how this turned out.
Everyone inside is happy that they fended them off, but Jaspers kills the mood by wanting to lock up the prisoners again. He points his gun at Bishop, who points his gun right back at him. Anna points her gun at Jaspers, Roenick points one of his guns at her. Beck points his gun at Roenick, Iris points her gun at Beck. Smiley takes Alex hostage, and Roenick points his gun at Smiley.
Roenick tells them that they all need to stick together if they want to survive the night. They all lower their weapons. Duvall only has a couple of hours until sunrise, and he needs to kill Bishop by then. He tells one of his men to order a helicopter, but it will be delayed because of the storm. Back inside, Smiley and Alex guard a window; Anna and Jaspers guard another window; Beck and Roenick guard another window and talk about drugs; Bishop and Iris guard another entrance. Iris says that she can't stop thinking about sex. Bishop tells her that sex and death are similar. She asks him if it's true that he ripped out someones spine, but he smiles and says that it was an adam's apple. He then shows her how to do it. They didn't notice that another one of Duvall's men snuck in, but Roenick blows his brains out before he does anything.
Eventually, Capra, one of the police officers from the beginning who works at Precinct 13, drives his car to the precinct. Everyone inside tries to warn him, but he's shot at by Duvall and his men. Capra's forced to drive his car into a pole, and Roenick rushes outside to save him. Inside, though, Beck is highly suspicious of their new guest and thinks that Capra is working with Duvall. He thinks that he'll kill them one by one when they least expect it. Smiley agrees with Beck. Roenick orders Beck to put down his gun, but he tells him that he's not in charge anymore. Bishop walks up to Beck and whacks him in the throat. While Beck struggles to breathe, Bishop tells him that Roenick is still in charge of everyone.
Beck and Smiley go upstairs to take guard, and Smiley tells him that they can make a run for it. Freedom is right outside for them. Downstairs, it is decided that Anna can hotwire Capra's car and go for help (Capra lost his keys in the snow while running inside). Jaspers doesn't trust her, and so Alex volunteers to go with her to ensure that they get help. Roenick doesn't want Alex to go, but he lets her anyway. He will provide a distraction while they get to the car unnoticed. Unfortunately for them, the transport bus explodes suddenly and Jaspers informs everyone that Beck and Smiley have decided to make a run for it.
Beck and Smiley run away from the precinct and hide in the snow from Duvall's men. The group inside decides that they can use this to their benefit, so they send Alex and Anna to the car. Duvall compliments Roenick on being smart for blowing up the bus and creating a distraction. A sniper shoots Smiley in the shoulder. He says that he can still make it. He's then shot in the head by the same sniper. Beck doesn't know what to do now since he's alone, so he makes a mad dash for the fence and tries to climb it, but a sniper shoots him through the back of the head and out the front. Beck falls dead.
Anna and Alex get to Capra's car. Anna hotwires it (even though she took a while). The girls drive off, happy to get away undetected........if only they looked in the back seat. One of Duvall's men was hiding back there the whole time. He shoots Anna in the back of the head, causing the car to crash. Iris realizes that there is no hope for them and that they are all going to die. Turns out Alex survived the crash, and she's dragged out to Duvall, who asks her how many people are in the building. She says 100, and he asks again. She doesn't talk. Duvall then shoots Alex point-blank in the forehead and leaves her body in the snow. It's here that we find out that Duvall plans on pinning this whole shootout on Bishop's gang.
Roenick is frustrated and blames himself for sending Alex and Anna out to their deaths. He goes to drink some more, but Bishop tells him that he still needs his gun (so he needs Roenick). Roenick then goes to take another painkiller he keeps hidden in a box of matches, but he drops them all out on the floor and goes to defend his life. While Roenick was in his office, though, Bishop went downstairs and sees that a back door was opened.....from the inside. He sees someones shadow and runs into Capra. He demands what Capra was doing down there. He then hits him around, demanding him to confess to being with Duvall. Roenick comes in and sees this. Instead of helping his friend, he takes out his gun and points it at Capra's head, demanding what he told Duvall. Capra refuses to talk. Jaspers comes in and tells them that he's found a way out of the building. Apparently, in the basement there's an entrance to the sewer system. They can take the tunnel out of there. The cops outside fire more flash-bombs inside and Roenick tells Jaspers, Iris, and Capra to go downstairs and leave. He handcuffs Capra, though, because he still doesn't trust him. Then they hear the helicopter.
It hovers above the roof and several guys come down ropes and land on the roof. Roenick and Bishop douse the entire building with gasoline cans. They wait until the guys are in their view, then Roenick lights the gas, which blocks them off from Duvall and his men. Roenick and Bishop leave for the tunnel, while Duvall and his men leave Precinct 13. Jaspers guides them outside until they appear outside again. Bishop says goodbye and takes Iris hostage. Roenick points his gun at Bishop and suddenly finds that they are surrounded by Duvall and the surviving men of his group. It turns out that someone in Precinct 13 was with Duvall all along. It wasn't Capra, though - it was Jaspers.
Jaspers (Brian Dennehy) says that they should have just given up Bishop at the start. They could have avoided a lot of deaths. He also says that he doesn't care about Roenick, Capra, or Iris. Bishop pisses Jaspers off, and gets pistol-whipped a couple of times for it. However, we see that Bishop had a hidden flash-bomb in his coat and while he's being beaten, he slips it into Jaspers' belt. He tells Roenick to close his eyes. He understands and takes cover. The flash-bomb goes off, which kills Jaspers, and it offers Roenick the chance to kill a lot of Duvall's remaining men.
Iris and Capra decide to make a dash for a car, while Bishop runs off into the woods. Roenick gives chase to him, and Duvall only has two other guys left. He sends one off to kill Iris and Capra, and he takes the other with him while he chases Roenick and Bishop. The guy sent for Iris shoots the car and makes it crash. Capra dies in the car crash. Iris surprises the guy and grabs his throat, hurting his adam's apple. She even pushes her thumb into his left eye. He gets pissed and hits her a couple of times. Iris kills him by snatching one of his knives and jamming it through his chin.
In the woods, Roenick is looking for Bishop, while Duvall is looking for both of them. Eventually, Bishop finds Roenick and points his gun at him, but tells him that the reason he stayed was because Duvall was still alive. There's a problem - Duvall and his guy can see them because they have night-vision goggles. Roenick takes care of it, drawing the attention of Duvall's guy. They shoot at each other. Bishop sneaks behind the guy and shoots him in the face three times. Duvall comes out and shoots Bishop in the stomach. He presses his gun into the wound and tells him to call Roenick. However, Roenick is already there, and has his gun pointed at Duvall, while he holds his gun to Bishop's head. Duvall asks Roenick if he would kill a cop, but he says that he's the only cop there. Roenick shoots Duvall to death, but in turn is shot in the stomach by him. Bishop grabs his gun and tells Roenick that he's going to make a run for it. Roenick says that he'll find him, and it'll be just him and no other cop. The wounded Bishop heads off into the woods. Roenick is found by Iris and some good cops and firemen who finally arrived. The good cop looks at Duvall's body and asks Roenick if there is anyone else out there, but Roenick tells him that there isn't. Iris and Roenick walk away and she tells him that she's surprised what a badass Roenick turned out to be. He talks about what a hell of a way to start the new year.
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