|Escape from L.A.
1996 - R - 101 Mins.
|Director: John Carpenter
|Producer: Debra Hill and Kurt Russell
|Written By: John Carpenter, Debra Hill and Kurt Russell
|Starring: Kurt Russell, A.J. Langer, Steve Buscemi, Valeria Golino, Cliff Robertson
|Review by: Bill King
|Official Site: www.theofficialjohncarpenter.com/pages/themovies/la/la.html
'Escape from L.A.' is the sequel to 1981's 'Escape from New York,' but it also plays like a re-imagining of its predecessor's story structure. Snake Plissken is back, and again he has to break into a city and escape before time runs out. This time the vision is much darker, the laughs are bigger, the action is more exciting, and the special effects are so cartoony they actually take on a surreal quality. The odd one out is Snake himself, and played once again by the indispensable Kurt Russell, he doesn't seem at all amused by his surrounds. Like before, he just wants to get his mission over with so he can receive his full pardon, then presumably re-enter criminal life all over again.
Snake relaxes with a game of hoops
After an earthquake devastated Los Angeles and cut it off from the U.S. mainland, the government no longer considers the leftover island as part of the country. In a future where the Constitution has, for all intents and purposes, been shredded to bits, "undesirables" are deported to this island to live out the rest of their lives. The new moral United States forbids alcohol, smoking, red meat and other perverse activities. It appears like an exaggerated vision, but that's the point. It's a clear and concise way to present the argument that politicians are losing all touch with their constitutional duties. The film's depiction of a fascist U.S. is much clearer now than in 1996, because we have this dreadful thing today called the Patriot Act. Kurt Russell is a Libertarian, and he co-wrote the script. If you know that, then the movie's political leanings become perfectly clear.
The President's (Cliff Robertson) daughter Utopia (A.J. Langer) stole a black box containing the remote control device for the world's EMP satellites. Activating these over a certain area can render all electronic devices useless. If the appropriate code is entered, the entire planet can be plunged into the dark ages. Utopia opposes her father's vile policies, so she took the black box and is hiding in Los Angeles where gang leader Cuervo (George Corraface) wants to use it for his own purposes. Enter Snake Plissken, captured once again but given another shot at freedom. He has ten hours to retrieve the box and return with it, or a virus will kill him.
Just like in 'Escape from New York,' Snake meets various eccentrics who offer help. A hooker named Taslima (Valeria Golino) travels with him for a while to point him in the right direction. Map to the Stars Eddie (Steve Buscemi) knows the entire city like the back of his hand, but his loyalties are in question. Snake even runs into an old friend -- another former colleague who betrayed him -- a transsexual named Hershe (Pam Grier), an enemy of Cuervo. They set aside their differences for an assault on Disneyland, where Cuervo has the black box and is waiting for a helicopter to take him ashore.
John Carpenter has a lot of fun with L.A.'s surroundings. Recognizable landmarks like the Hollywood sign and Wilshire Boulevard no longer hold their former splendor. Freeways are submerged while a tanker rests on the shore of Los Angeles Island. Even celebrity facelifts are lampooned. Cosmetic surgery rejects capture Snake and Taslima briefly. These are people whose faces and other tissue have become seriously degraded due to multiple operations, and now require fresh body parts or else they'll just fall apart. There's no Michael Jackson look-alike here, but Bruce Campbell plays the Surgeon General of Beverly Hills, a plastic-faced goon with sharp blades for tools.
There's more action in this outing, and with it more special effects and elaborate sets. John Carpenter had more money to play around with this time, and what we see on the screen reflects his giddy desire to have fun. This is not just a fun movie, though, but also a pointed satire on politics and entertainment. There is an implication that movies no longer exist in the future, because the earthquake destroyed the entertainment industry, and it apparently wasn't relocated. As if that isn't enough, some of the best scenes involve a tidal wave down Wilshire, a hand glider attack, a chase scene involving a car with a disco ball, and a basketball game to determine Snake's fate. 'Escape from L.A.' is pure escapism as only Carpenter can deliver.