Friday, April 10, 2009

Film Review: ESCAPE FROM L.A. (1996, John Carpenter)


Stars: 4 of 5.
Running Time: 101 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Kurt Russell (who not only stars, but got his sole screenplay credit for this film), Peter Fonda, Pam Grier, Steve Buscemi, Stacy Keach, Cliff Robertson (here, as the President, previously as the Oscar-winning "Charley," Hugh Hefner in STAR 80, and the unlucky ventriloquist in THE TWILIGHT ZONE's "The Dummy"), Peter Jason, Bruce Campbell.
Tag-lines: "Plan your escape!" AND "Snake is back."
Best one-liner: "Welcome to the human race."

So basically this is a remake of ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK. And that's not a problem. As long as John Carpenter is doing the remaking, that's totally cool. I wish he'd do more. Almost every element from the first installment is reprised here: Kurt is still Snake. There's a con perpetrated by the establishment to get Snake to work for the man. He has to go into a major American city that's been separated from the populace for moral reasons to accomplish a goal.

(And early in the '08 primary season, when Mike Huckabee was doing well, I could have sworn that the events of this film were going to come true.

Eh, they probably still will.) He's put up to it by a hardass (Stacy Keach here almost succeeding in the impossible task of filling Lee Van Cleef's Herculean shoes).

He meets a wacky guy who will help (Buscemi here kind of replacing Borgnine AND Harry Dean Stanton). There's an expendable female (A.J. Langer is no Barbeau). A sporting contest (a deadly basketball game replacing the ball-bat cage match), the titular escaping, and a finale where Snake turns the tables on those D-bags who put him up to this. Oh, wait, I left out one detail. Georges Corraface, as the Che Guevera-esque villain, is no Isaac Hayes.

Let me say that again. GEORGES CORRAFACE IS NO ISAAC HAYES. And I'm a little sick of the whole 'villain you thought was a revolutionary is really just a common thief' plot point that it feels like has been in every single action movie since Alan Rickman did it in DIE HARD. Alright, now that we got that out of the way, this is a damn fun movie. A lot of the shortcomings are nullified by the fact that Pam Grier plays a badass post-op (?) trans woman.

Like most Carpenters, it's got an awesome, mostly self-composed soundtrack, and an existential ending that sure has got balls. It's a bold ending, and I think that we'd all be better off if Snake actually were to do what he does in the film, which I shan't reveal here. "Welcome to the human race," indeed. Damn.

Alright, Snake, here are four stars to wedge and ram into various orifices of "the Man." John and Kurt, let's get it together and ESCAPE FROM EARTH.

-Sean Gill

7 comments:

TimTE01 said...

While I think that the film is entertaining in its own way, I have two issues.

First, the whole thing feels forced. The humor, the situation and especially the social commentary. We get it!

Second, he has to make free throw shots to not be killed. Really? You can do better than that.

Those and the old surfer bit just drag the movie down a bit. It is not the worst film by far, but it is also not as good as the original. I said it.

Sean Gill said...

I cannot argue with you on either point, but, in my mind, even a dim rehash of Escape from New York (whether by Carpy himself or by some zany Italians) is going to be better than most of the films out there.

owen said...

Its like the Mad Max of escape movies. can there be another one? probably not in todays era of movies like Transformers 2 but ESCAPE FROM EARTH would be cool. wait or better yet Mad Max and Snake starring in the same movie! *mind blown*

le0pard13 said...

This one is a guilty pleasure of mine. I can't get enough of Snake Plissken or John Carpenter. Hey, I'll put this one up against a lot of what the studios are regurgitating out there right now, and Snake will kick their ass on fun, style, and social comment, alone. Thanks for this, Sean.

Sean Gill said...

Leopard13,

Thanks for stopping by- I'm glad you enjoyed the write-up! Despite the occasional bad CGI and lapses in narrative judgment, I still stand by this flick, and the ending is so damned satisfying that it pretty much outweighs any shortcomings. Definitely one for Carpy's 'plus' column.

Wes said...

I think the point of Escape from LA is to be a little (well, a lot) ridiculous. Everything about the original from the premise to the 80's feel to the characters and their costumes was ridiculous. This is why the three things identified by TimeTE01 (forced feeling, basketball deathmatch, and surfer CGI) are some of my absolute favorite parts of the movie (also including the Che Guevara character, the "Final Solution" line, and, of course, the final "Welcome to the human race" line). Anyway, thanks for the review!

Sean Gill said...

Just realized I never responded to Owen:
Yes to a movie with Snake and Mad Max. Definitely. And I still hope (though somehow I know it will never be) for a third "Escape" film. For now, I'd settle for a Carpy/Kurt reunion of any kind.

Wes,
The ridiculousness certainly keeps it fun, and then the quasi-nihilistic ending gives it some resonance. I still stand by this film!