Retro Film Review: Escape from L.A. (1996)

in #aaa4 years ago (edited)


These days John Carpenter's 1981 cult classic Escape from New York is remembered for wrong reasons. The beginning of the film features terrorists hijacking jet plane and crashing it down into New York skyscraper - scene that had frightening resemblance with some real life events few years ago. We must all hope that the beginning of its sequel Escape from L.A., directed by John Carpenter in 1996, wouldn't have such prophetic dimension.

The plot begins in 1998 with Los Angeles becoming an island after cataclysmic earthquake. American religious ultra-conservatives interpret that as a sign from God and use the opportunity to win elections and gradually establish repressive theocracy led by President (played by Cliff Robertson). Island of Los Angeles becomes penal colony for all social and political undesirables – atheists, Muslims, homosexuals, prostitutes, smokers etc. President's daughter Utopia (played by A.J. Langer) is one of the rare people that wants to go there voluntarily, being brainwashed by Cuervo Jones (played by George Corraface), Peruvian leftist guerrilla and unofficial leader of Los Angeles' strongest gang. She not only escapes to island, but also steals "black box" – powerful secret weapon - from her father. Snake Plissken (played by Kurt Russell), former war hero and convicted criminal who had solved similar problems in New York fifteen years ago, is again approached by government and asked to penetrate the island, locate Utopia and retrieve the "black box". Again, Plissken agrees only after being injected with deadly virus and promised antidote if he succeeds in his mission. Plissken goes to Los Angeles and has some ten hours before virus takes effect.

Viewers, at least those who had watched 1981 original, would soon realise that Escape from L.A. represents bad sequel. Actually, this film goes even beyond the standards of Hollywood sequel badness, because its authors weren't sure whether to make sequel or simple remake. This uncertainty is matched by the confusion in the screenplay, written by Carpenter, Kurt Russell and Debra Hill. Escape from L.A. tries to function as standard science fiction action film, self-referential parody and satirical comment on some 1990s socio-political trends (rise of Religious Right and rampant "political correctness") - all in the same time. But few viewers would care about those lofty goals, because Escape from L.A. doesn't reach any of them - it is too silly to be taken seriously as an action film, and too serious to be taken as self-parody. Carpenter tried very hard to make this film different from 1981 version, using the Los Angeles scenery, 50 million US$ budget, CGI and horde of colourful actors in supporting roles. But all this only made the main flaw of the film - its lack of originality - more obvious. The scenes and characters that were acceptable in dark, Spartan but effective 1981 original, looks incredibly false in glitzy Hollywood glamour 1996 version. By the time the audience sees the end (which, like every other scene, follows the original), it would have plenty of opportunities to be reminded of the old saying about history repeating itself. Let's just hope that real life won't follow pattern of those two Carpenter movies.

RATING: 2/10 (-)

(Note: The text in its original form was posted in Usenet newsgroup on February 13th 2003)


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