Tuesday, September 30, 2014
John Carpenter's Escape From L.A. (1996)
Set 16 years after the original, 2013 to be precise, Escape From L.A. follows the first film's beats more or less exactly with a few exceptions. Snake (Kurt Russell) is once again sent into a futuristic prison city, this time under orders from the ultra right wing President, played by Cliff Robertson. The mission is to stop a mad rebel named Cuervo Jones (George Corraface) who has brainwashed the President's daughter and gotten her to steal a super weapon that can effectively wipe out civilization as we know it with a press of a button. The daughter is also marked for death by her dear old dad, which doesn't sit well with Snake (but then what does?) and there are tons of action scenes, character actors and shootouts.
Everything is beefed up for the most part from the theme song which now sounds like its on the juice to the action which is peppered with some dodgy CGI work. The cast is solid enough with Steve Buscemi in a fun role, Robertson and Stacy Keach in decent turns and fun parts for Bruce Campbell as a gruesome plastic surgeon, Peter Fonda as a surfer and Pam Grier as a guy Snake once knew who had a sex change but the real star of the show is Kurt Russell. Russell has always loved the role of Snake and you can tell by just how hard he works to make every scene he's in as cool as possible. He nearly single handedly makes this a really, really good movie.
It falls short, sadly, simply because it tries too damn hard to echo the first movie. I can sort of see where Carpenter was going with it, some of the echoes are amusing (Snake is constantly told he shorter than expected whereas he was mistaken for dead in the first one all the time) but the overall effect is that it makes you not really need to see the movie since Escape From New York has been consistently available for purchase or rental since 1984.
There is good stuff to be found, however. Carpenter and Russell inject the film with a wickedly dark streak of humor, taking shots at political correctness the whole way through, there's a fun showdown quick draw scene and coming up with a grimly hilarious, audacious finale as Snake shuts down the entire planet. It's a hell of a nice ending, though it would be even more effective if the movie were better. This is right around the time Carpenter stopped giving a damn and it kind of shows, sadly.