August 11, 1996 -- There are always problems when you try to make a sequel to a film that has achieved cult status. That's the daunting task that John Carpenter took on when he directed "Escape From L.A."
How did he do? Very well. The sequel to "Escape From New York" abounds with tongue-in-cheek humor, Hollywood in-jokes and satire, as well as action, stunts and special effects.
While the original "Escape From New York" took itself more seriously. This film is a satire of the first movie and it takes pot shots at Hollywood and American politics. First we see Universal Studios underwater, sunken when the city was hit by "The Big One." Snake Plisskin (Kurt Russell, again) crashes right through the building in an act of what may be revenge for Carpenter.
There's a hang glider shoot-out in a theme park much like Disneyland. A sudden death basketball shoot out at the Coliseum, where the Rams and Raiders used to play football, in a funny send-up of Romans and sports fans. Downtown L.A.'s Bonaventure Hotel is the site of spectacular earthquake damage in the opening sequence. Also in ruins is the Capitol Records building. In another scene we see the Beverly Hills Hotel taken over by a crazed plastic surgeon (Bruce Campbell) and his hooded disciples who prey on other people's body parts so they can remain looking young, and plastic.
In one scene Peter Fonda ("Easy Rider") and Russell are seen surfing down Wilshire Boulevard on a Tsunami wave, chasing a pimpmobile in a funny combination of surfing movies and action films. Fonda is part of what producer Debra Hill calls the "ensemble retro cast," which includes Cliff Robertson and the President and Stacy Keach as his top military aide, Mulloy.
This is a film that is not short on ideas, or energy, or gleeful fun. The plot? It's pretty much the same as the plot in "Escape From New York," only he's rescuing the president's daughter this time.
Russell is good as the deadpan action hero Plisskin. Steve Buscemi ("Fargo") does a nice job as a slimy tour guide called "Map to the Stars Eddie." The filmmakers also take some shots at the Christian right. In the future depicted in the film, for instance, you can be imprisoned for following the Islamic faith. There's also no smoking, drinking or sex (outside of marriage) allowed in the future U.S.
It's not often that one sees a film written (by Russell, Hill and Carpenter) with such verve and abandon. It is a lot of fun to watch. I would have liked it better if the movie wasn't so dark, though. I don't think any scenes were filmed in daylight and most were poorly lit. There is also a scene where one of the main characters gets killed. That drama seemed out of place in a film that was not serious in any other respect. Nevertheless, I give it a B. It will be interesting to see how well this film does at the box office. Satire generally doesn't sell.
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