ESCAPE FROM L.A. (1996)
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It took 15 years, but in 1996 John Carpenter finally brought Snake Plissken back for another escape. This flick takes place in 2013 and finds Plissken (Kurt Russell) being caught gunfighting in Thailand and brought to the West Coast to be deposited in the lawless island of L.A. A massive earthquake, predicted by the United States’ right wing religious president (Cliff Robertson), has separated L.A. from the mainland and now any immoral or criminal individuals are deposited in this no man’s land. Meanwhile, the president’s daughter, Utopia (A.J. Langer) has rebelled and fled to L.A. into the arms of Peruvian terrorist Cuervo Jones (Georges Corraface) with a doomsday weapon. Like in New York, Plissken is offered his freedom and a pardon of all his crimes, if he infiltrates L.A., kills Cuervo and Utopia and returns the weapon to the U.S. president.
Escape from L.A. was a box office and critical disappointment back in 1996, but with a lot of John Carpenter’s lesser films, it grows on one and now, viewed all these years later, is an entertaining watch finally finding it’s fan base. Carpenter directed from a script by he, producer Debra Hill and star Kurt Russell. It’s lighter in tone and more colorful than Plissken’s apocalyptic first adventure and the characters are a bit more cartoonish than those Snake met in NYC. The budget is almost 4x as much, though bargain basement CGI FX make it look a lot cheaper than it’s 1981 predecessor. The story is a thin remake of the first film and is a bit more politically preachy, with it’s religious right president and police state where even smoking and red meat are criminal offenses. Thankfully Snake is still Snake and he’s cool as ice, even when surfing a tsunami alongside Peter Fonda. The action is somewhat bigger than in EFNY, though a weak villain and too many disposable characters lessen the film’s overall impact. The flick follows the 1981 original’s template too closely to really resonate as a new adventure, but there is a lot of entertainment in watching Carpenter poke fun at politics and Hollywood, no more evident than the Surgeon General of Beverly Hills (Bruce Campbell) segment. It is a flawed movie, but with a little added nostalgia, at over two decades old, it can be fun…and at least we get to see Russell back in action as Snake, one more time.
Carpenter always assembles a good cast. Russell steps into Snake Plissken seamlessly and despite the outlaw being 15 years older, it seems like just yesterday, he was escaping New York City. Russell plays him very seriously despite the film’s lighter tone and Snake is ever the badass up until and including the very last shot. A classic character used far too sparsely. The only disappointment in the cast is Corraface as Cuervo Jones. The actor tries hard, but doesn’t have the presence or ferocity to make him a strong villain worthy of taking on Snake. He’s weak. Issac Hayes’ Duke of New York seemed far more deadly and dangerous. Langer is fine as the ditzy Utopia, though the character is too light to fit in a Plissken adventure. Same could be said of Buscemi’s ‘Map To The Stars’ Eddie. He’s a jokey substitute for Borgnine’s Cabbie and another character that feels out of place. Keach is good as Malloy who would be the Bob Hauk character, as is Robertson slimy as the religious zealot president. Michelle Forbes, Valeria Golino, the great Pam Grier and Peter Fonda are all fine in their supporting roles, as is Bruce Campbell a hoot as the Surgeon General of Beverly Hills. A good cast for the most part.
Overall, this was a bit disappointing when seen opening day 1996, especially to those of us who had been waiting 15 years for Carpenter to unleash Snake Plissken again. Decades later, now that the disappointment has abated and nostalgia has set in, it’s doesn’t seem so bad. Sure, it’s a bit too much of a remake to feel like a completely new adventure, but Russell is still awesome as Snake and at least we have two adventures to watch instead of just the one. There is a lot of action, aside from some sly political commentary and showbiz satire and some of it is more relevant now than back in the day. Not one of Carpenter’s best, but like many of his lesser titles, one that has actually aged better than expected…except for the awful CGI. Where was James Cameron and the New World Pictures FX crew and their model work when you needed them.
Rated 3 (out of 4) Snake Plisskens.