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Escape from L.A.
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by Mel Valentin

"Unfairly maligned sequel to the cult classic is a wickedly dead-on satire."
4 stars

In 1981, John Carpenter directed and co-wrote "Escape From New York," with Kurt Russell in a career-making (or rather re-making) performance as the soon-to-be iconic hero, Snake Plissken, an ex-Special Forces mercenary forced to save the president of the United States from a gang of ruthless thugs in a futuristic Manhattan turned into a maximum security prison. Made for a modest, $5.5 million dollars, [i]Escape From New York[/i] grossed more than five times its original budget in the United States (it doubled that amount with foreign ticket sales). A sequel seemed inevitable, but it took another fifteen years before Snake Plissken made his return to the screen in "Escape From L.A." Critics lambasted Carpenter and Russell's collaboration as an expensive joke/remake of the original. Bad worth-of-mouth contributed to poor box-office results.

Almost ten years after its release, it seems appropriate for a reevaluation of Escape From L.A.. Surprisingly, critics and audiences seemed to have missed the often-prescient satire underlying Escape From L.A.. With Russell as a co-screenwriter, everything from religious conservatism to the culture of narcissism prevalent among Hollywood's elites was fair game. Snake Plissken, however, is still the staunchly anti-authoritarian, self-reliant anti-hero, but even more nihilistic than he was in the first film. Fans and critics, however, point to the obvious similarities between the two films, beginning with near identical voiceover narrations describing the state of the United States (from bad to worse), and ending with Plissken once again deciding to reject social inclusion and acting to bring anarchy chaos to the United States and the world (social goods, once you see what the president-for-life has done to the United States).

1998, the future. A Pat Robertson-like religious zealot (Cliff Robertson) prophesizes that California will suffer a massive earthquake at the turn of the millennium. It does, with Los Angeles broken off into an island, catapulting him into a national leader and the presidency. Once in office, the U.S. Constitution is changed, making him president-for-life. The United States has become Moral America, a thinly veiled theocracy founded on Christian fundamentalist values. Americans who commit so-called "moral crimes," are exiled to Los Angeles, losing all rights and privileges, including the right to return.

The president's daughter, Utopia (A.J. Langer), unhappy for multiple reasons, including her father's dictatorial rule, runs off to Los Angeles and into the arms into Cuervo Jones (George Corraface), a Che Guevara look-alike hoping to lead an invasion of California and the United States. Utopia holds the key to Cuervo's plans, or rather a black box she's carrying holds the key to Cuervo’s plans for upending the social and political order. The black box is more or less a doomsday device. Malloy (Stacy Keach), a high-ranking officer in the U.S. Police Force, and his assistant, Brazen (Michelle Forbes), enlists the aid of the newly captured Plissken. Once again, Plissken is given a deadline, return with the black box or die a horrible death (this time thanks to a designer virus called "Plutoxin-7"). Plissken has no choice but to comply, of course.

Entering via submersible (he entered Manhattan via glider in the first film), Snake encounters Pipeline (Peter Fonda), a burnt-out hippie type whose life revolves around surfing. Pipeline is of little help, sending Snake on his own into the heart of a ruined Los Angeles. There, he meets up with the fast-talking, not-to-trusted Map to the Stars Eddie (Steve Buscemi), who promises to take Snake to Cuervo Jones' location. Separated, Snake meets Taslima (Valeria Golino), a woman convicted for being a Muslim in South Dakota and exiled to L.A. Snake almost immediately runs afoul of the Surgeon General (Bruce Campbell, almost unrecognizable under pounds of latex and makeup). The Surgeon General continues to operate a lucrative cosmetic surgery practice in the Hollywood hills (many of his patients have been scarred beyond recognition).

Snake escapes, of course, with gunfights, fistfights (including one with Cuervo Jones at the climax of the film), and along the way, a makeshift basketball game where Snake is forced to play for his life (it substitutes for the gladiatorial contest from the first film), and some surfing, using a conveniently occurring tsunami to ride to get closer to his objectives. Eventually, Snake runs in and enlists the help of an old criminal associate, Hershe Las Palmas (Pam Grier), a powerful gang boss in her own right. Cue an end-film confrontation with Malloy and the venal, cowardly president (qualities he shares with the president from the Escape From New York), with Snake displaying a bit of forward thinking. The fate of the world hangs in the balance.

Escape From L.A.'s detractors will point to the overly familiar storyline, suggesting that Escape From L.A. is nothing more than a big-budget remake of the original film, with John Carpenter and Kurt Russell enjoying a big payday and a joke on the audience. They're certainly right that Escape From L.A. is almost a shot-for-shot remake, but that position fails to take into account the differences, both obvious and subtle, between the two films, particularly the already mentioned political and social satire. They either disagree with Carpenter and Russell's positions (Carpenter tends toward the liberal-progressive end of the spectrum while Russell tends toward the libertarian end, with both displaying disgust with religious or social conservatism) or simply refuse to acknowledge their presence in a presumably "dumb" action/adventure flick.

Others will immediately point out the admittedly cheesy special effects, but that point belies the solid effects sequence that opens the film or later sequences that are, at minimum, passable. Only two scenes stand out as truly awful, the early submersible scene handled strictly through CGI and later, the surfing scene, with glaring backscreen projections making a mockery of any attempt at verisimilitude. But the surfing scene is meant to be over-the-top, ridiculous to the extreme (it ends with Snake catapulting himself into a moving car). It seems like too many detractors miss Carpenter and Russell's attempts at tongue-in-cheek humor. Alas, it's their loss. "Escape From L.A." may have been simply ahead of its time in 1996. Almost ten years later, Carpenter and Russell's fans are still (mostly) unforgiving, but a "fresh" view combined with a more critical attitude just might change their minds.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=612&reviewer=402
originally posted: 12/04/05 16:49:49
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2013 Boston SciFi Film Festival For more in the 2013 Boston Sci-Fi Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

12/28/17 morris campbell cheesy fun 3 stars
4/20/14 Chidwell The "bad" special effects are a huge part of the fun. 4 stars
6/08/12 Monday Morning Tom McNulty was in it. That's good enough for me, the other Tom McNulty. 5 stars
9/13/09 Jeff Wilder Great purely fun B movie 4 stars
1/03/08 mrsinister A much better cast than the story deserved. Oh well 3 stars
11/02/07 Skip A stylish thrill ride with an ending that makes it all worth it. Grows on you. 5 stars
12/02/06 David Pollastrini great action with a few comedy bits 5 stars
11/02/06 AJ Muller great fun,clever satire,and John Carpenter,not to mention Snake Fucking Plissken AGAIN. 5 stars
9/12/06 Booksworm Makes a great double feature with Escape from New York 4 stars
6/10/06 San Lamar crap! pure crap! 1 stars
1/06/06 JM Synth Basically a big-budget remake. Okay, with some great satire, but shoulda been more fun 3 stars
11/30/05 Blutarsky All you naysayers are wrong. Get a clue guys. It's called satire. 5 stars
5/14/05 Indrid Cold A fairly cool hero makes it just barely watchable. 2 stars
1/16/05 Jeff Anderson Sad to say, a big disappointment from J. Carpenter & K. Russell. Not up to the original. 2 stars
12/05/04 Mr. Kags Escape from L.A is a piece of shiat. Don't even compare to NEW YORK 1 stars
10/17/04 Ian Worst fight scenes ever...What mr Pink said! 2 stars
4/10/04 American Slasher Goddess Watchable,but it doesn't come close to the original. 3 stars
11/28/03 john well there is Snake - which is good but there is also a terrible movie you have to endure 2 stars
9/26/03 Mr. Hat Music is OK, cast is cool, ending is classic. A bit 2 overdone & fake, though. 4 stars
5/22/03 mr. Pink Unbelievably bad sequel to an oriiginal that wasn't THAT good anyway. 1 stars
4/14/03 The Talking Elbow This could have been so much better, but l give it 5 stars cause of the ending, GREATending 5 stars
4/13/03 GMan Sucky villian. Snake rocks. New York version beats the West, hands down. 3 stars
4/13/03 Jack Sommersby A basic rehash of the original. It's cheesy, with a crushing bore of a villain. 2 stars
4/06/03 y2mckay Okay, it's cheesy as fuck and far inferior. But come on, it has SNAKE PLISSKEN 3 stars
2/11/03 spacecowboy HAHAHAHAHAHAAHAHHAAHAHHA >:(.....TAKE ME NOW GOD. 1 stars
6/18/02 Charles Tatum Truly awful 1 stars
12/23/01 Jake I'm a fan of Carpenter but this movie has nothing worth understanding. Bad effects also. 1 stars
10/10/01 Andrew Carden Not As Good As The Original. 3 stars
8/05/01 E-Funk Carpenter fans understand, others need not apply. Great ending. 5 stars
7/14/01 Rampage I wanted to whomp Russell's arse after watching that horrid tripe! Jeez! 1 stars
7/06/01 TLsmooth "Hi, I'll have a shit burger with extra Escape from LA please." 1 stars
7/05/01 Craig Blanchard HOW DOES SHIT LIKE THIS GET MADE??!! The World is mad! 1 stars
7/02/01 taj One of Carpenter's worst. A few cool ideas lost amidst a cheezy screenplay. 2 stars
6/02/01 Thrillhouse laughably bad, make American History X look like Judge Dredd 2 stars
4/24/01 Spetters The supporting cast make this shit bearable. 2 stars
3/27/01 Jun I was too stupid to sit through this crap... 1 stars
3/03/01 Rael A failure even as a B-grade explotation flick. I saw it for free and felt ripped off. 2 stars
10/26/99 Karahde Khan If you've seen the 1st, you've seen this. If you haven't seen the 1st, skip this anyway. 1 stars
8/19/99 Japtalian I wanted to kick Kurts ass after I saw this piece of shit! 1 stars
12/14/98 Binky Shitful effort. 1 stars
10/26/98 Silent Rob Misfired idea whose original fire flickers through momentarily. Loved the duster at the end 3 stars
10/24/98 Vincent Oh Mr. Carpenter- what happened? You used to make good films 1 stars
9/15/98 Lonatic One of the worst sequels next to the 'Blues Bros. 2000'. Lame special fx! 1 stars
9/07/98 Swan If you aren't 'in sync' with Carpenter's idea, you won't line it. It's better, 2nd viewing. 3 stars
8/28/98 Mister Whoopee Snake Plisken is an anagram of "total and complete bastard". 2 stars
8/25/98 Pete I now know why Elvis shot tv's. I think AJ Langer could be good in a decent role. 2 stars
8/25/98 Miss Stress did this movie really need to be made? i don't think so 1 stars
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  09-Aug-1996 (R)



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