(John Carpenter, USA, 1996)
As a cult movie, John Carpenter's 1981 film Escape From New York never set the box office alight but got a new lease of life and scored a smash in the fledgling UK home video market in the early 1980s. As a piece of pure hokum it was a refreshingly cynical piece of filmmaking that marked the beginning of a subversive (but entertaining) attack on the American way of life from within the US film industry by its director. In Escape From L.A., a somewhat belated sequel to that earlier film, Carpenter continues his Neo-Con bashing but misses the entertainment marker by a long chalk.
For all of Carpenter's good intentions and brief flashes of acid wit, this follow up feature is a dreary, scene-for-scene remake of Escape From New York and little else. To begin with the similarities with the first film are amusing, but after one hour of carbon copy structure with only slight changes to actual events, Escape From L.A. commits that most heinous of action movie crimes - it comes across as just plain dull. The comedy misfires on almost every level making Carpenter's passable previous attempt at the genre - Big Trouble In Little China (also starring Kurt Russell) look like a masterpiece of farce. One is simply left asking such an obvious question that one wonders how it could not have occurred to those working on the production "Why remake the original?". Only the budget improves over the first film and in place of effective model work we have sexy computer generated imaging; but the good production design of ...New York is replaced by dreadful, bland sets in ...L.A..
As the plot does nothing to expand the Snake Plissken character and Russell is given only a handful of lines the lead character is one of the least engaging in a film that isn't exactly bursting with them. In fact, it is only when a promising female character is written in that the film becomes arresting, but even that ace is thrown away as she is despatched just a quickly as she appears. It is only in the final 20 minutes that things ever get beyond a snails pace, and it is at this point that one realises how woefully under-directed the first 80 minutes have been.
A good cast helps occasionally: Stacey Keach as a tough military type, Michelle Forbes (Ensign Ro from Star Trek Next Generation/Kalifornia) as his assistant, Steve Buscemi as an irritating but funny sidekick, Peter Fonda has a couple of ludicrous scenes as Pipeline - a burnt out surfer dude, as does Pam Grier as a sex-changed ex-partner of Snake complete with deep, husky voice! For every good image - the Hollywood sign going up in flames, the distorting plastic surgery casualties attended to by the deranged Surgeon General (yet another cameo, this time from a heavily made up Bruce Campbell), or Snake surfing through the destroyed city with Pipeline - we have to sit through fifteen minutes of torpid direction, overly familiar end-of the-world panoramas and predictable plot.
Only the ending (and the entertaining soundtrack) offers any compensation for what has gone before. The final moments where Plissken condemns the Earth into a second Dark Ages and strikes up a smoke from a packet of 'American Sprit' cigarettes show Carpenter has it within himself to produce misanthropic cinema like no other contemporary American director; but the rest of the film will consign this entry into the Carpenter repertoire as his all time career low. 4/10
From New York
A-Z of Film Reviews