Monday, April 16, 2012


If Snake Plissken had an attitude problem in "Escape from New York," wait until you behold the havoc he wrecks in the long-awaited, slam-bang sequel "Escape from Los Angeles,"(***1/2 OUT OF ****)  a memorable apocalyptic science fiction satire that more than compensates for many of the shortcomings in the original.

In August 2000, an earthquake separates Los Angeles from the California mainland. An ultra-conservative Jerry Falwell-type politician (Cliff Robertson of "PT-109"), who predicted the earthquake, has managed to exploit his good fortune to win the presidency in the next election. The term of his presidency, however, is lifetime. He rewrites the laws so that he can hang on to the post for life then relocates the nation's capital to Lynchburg, Virginia. A new morally white-washed America has emerged by the year 2013. Cursing, smoking, pre-marital as well as extra-marital sex, and eating red meat now constitutes crimes. The government deports anybody who doesn't conform to this new order and sends them to the gang-infested cesspool of Los Angeles. The U.S. Police Force maintains a chain of forts along the coastline to repel the efforts of a South American revolutionary, Cuervo Jones (George Corraface of "Christopher Columbus"), who plans to spearhead a Third World invasion to reclaim America. 

Things take a turn for the worse when the President's na├»ve daughter Utopia (A.J. Langer) steals a black box. The black box contains the remote control to activate a necklace of lethal satellites designated 'the Sword of Damocles.' These satellites encircle Earth, and they can fire a magnetic pulse beam with pinpoint accuracy that can disable any kind of electric engine. Utopia hijacks Air Force 3 and the jetliner crashes in L.A. She allies herself with Cuervo Jones who threatens to use the weapon against America. The U.S. Police Force dispatches a rescue team, but they all die. Enter 'war hero' Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell of "Tombstone"), unshaven, sporting a black patch over his left eye, his typically surly attitude toward authority in general, in handcuffs with a police escort. The only thing Snake seems to be interested in is where he can get his next cigarette. The police infect Snake with a deadly virus that gives him less than ten hours to retrieve the black box.  Snake remembers being infected by a scratch from a person who walks past him but he puts down this brief episode as nothing until he realizes the enormityof what has happened.  Reluctantly, Snake agrees to take the mission and rides a nuclear mini-sub into Los Angeles.

Snake shares the sentiments of Marlon Brando's motorcycle maverick from "The Wild One." When asked what he rebels against, Brando's black-leather clad biker replies: "What have you got?" Whatever it is, Snake is against it. Snake thumbs his nose at the rules as well as the rule makers. He is the ultimate anti-hero, sent to save a civilization that he abhors. Former Disney star Kurt Russell reprises the tough guy tongue-in-cheek role he created in "Escape from New York." No, you don't have to have seen the original to appreciate "Escape from Los Angeles." His fastidious performance boasts equal amounts of put-on and posturing. Russell delivers his dialogue in a low, rasping monotone that parodies Clint Eastwood's 'Man with No Name" bounty hunter character. Snake resembles a fashionably rode-hard but put-up-wet Marvel Comic super hero clad in skin-tight, black garb, with matching automatic pistols. Nevertheless, Snake hardly qualifies as a super hero. The filmmakers have a great time poking fun at their one-eyed protagonist. Instead of calling him 'blue eyes,' they refer to him as 'blue eye.' Everybody who comes into contact with Snake for the first time expresses surprise that Snake isn't taller. Snake acts rather gullible on occasions when he has to depend on characters who double-cross him.

While the first "Escape" represented a triumph of style over substance, the "Escape" sequel triumphs both in style and substance. "Escape from New York" attained classic cult status as a darkly comic, industrial-strength escapade where Snake rescued a U.S. President from a grim maximum security prison on Manhattan Island. The story generated at least a modicum of tension because Snake had to contend with the severe time restriction. He had been injected with a poison that would kill him if he failed to accomplish his mission by its deadline. In the first "Escape," Snake sought to retrieve a cassette tape to bring about world peace. Strictly a follow-the-numbers formula melodrama, "Escape" benefited from its gritty looks, Carpenter's fantastic orchestral score, and the eerie atmosphere between the time that Snake landed his glider on New York City's World Trade Center and the violent shoot'em up finale on a bridge. The first "Escape" suffered because the scene between the inventive opening and concluding set pieces were synthetic and forgettable. The beauty of "Escape from Los Angeles" lies in the producer's refusal to stray from its formulaic origins. Moreover, the filmmakers have beefed up the budget, broadened the scope, and pumped up the story. Once again Snake battles the clock in his strenuous efforts to recover a device that can trigger world-wide destruction. There is a far greater sense of urgency in this "Escape" as we see Snake cutting corners and blowing away the opposition at every turn to save time. The sequence where he first tires to kill Cuervo Jones has a frenetic Indiana Jones quality.  Snake commandeers motorcycles and leaps from one vehicle to the next, swapping lead with a horde of unsavory villains.  Perhaps the strangest scene involves the deranged cosmetic surgeon (Bruce Campbell of "Evil Dead") who carves his victims up to get their useful body parts.

Director John Carpenter never lets the story slow down so we can catch our breath. Just when you think that you have it all figured out, he pulls a fast one with a clever surprise or two that enlivens this "Escape." "Escape from Los Angeles" pushes the envelope further in all directions. Carpenter penned the script with producer Debra Hill and Kurt Russell. Snake's mission is no picnic. The filmmakers plunge Snake headlong into one rigorous, hair-raising adventure after another. Snake spends the nine and a half hours of the literal storyline jumping through one flaming hoop after another in his quest for the black box. Of course, Carpenter and company have wisely compressed the time and super-charged the action so that the movie hurdles along at a breakneck pace.  Several familiar faces pad out the cast. Stacy Keach of "Mike Hammer" fame plays the same role Lee Van Cleef had in the original. Keach ranks as the top cop who coordinates between Snake and Cliff Robertson's scene-chewing president. "Rain Man" co-star Valerie Golino and "Pulp Fiction's" Steve Buscemi help Snake navigate through the rubble of Los Angeles. The only thing "Escape from L. A." doesn't do better is repeat the same orchestral score. John Carpenter received credit for the music, but Shirley Walker of "Batman") puts a spin on the theme that doesn't compare favorably to the original. If you thought the first "Escape" remotely entertaining, "Escape from L.A." should blow your mind. Watch out for all that R-rated violence and profanity.