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Escape from LA: (NYC's Sister City Route)

a movie review by Joe Parra

Rating: 3 out of 4

Teamwork - it can make a large, complex machine operate most efficiently and seem quite effortless. This especially holds true for action movies, especially action science fiction movies. In 1981, director John Carpenter and team took us on an Escape from New York, in which 1997 sees the five boroughs of New York City as a prison and the President of the U.S. is captured by hoods when Air Force 1 needs to make an unscheduled emergency landing. The Government sends in Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell), a mercenary who is (of course) the best in the business, to rescue the President in true daring-do fashion, with a decidedly cynical tongue in his cheek. A fun film that you either loved or hated - not much room for middle ground here. Personally, I got a big kick out of it; teamwork paid off.

Now it's 17 years later storywise, only 15 years later sequel-wise. L.A. has finally gotten lopped off the continent by a 9.5 on the Richter scale earthquake. It is now a prison facility, in that all dissidents are sent there. Beyond that, it is a nightmarish world controlled by different gangs, the toughest being headed up by a man named Cuervo Jones (George Corraface), who fancies himself a sort of Che Guevarra. How so? Mainland America is in no better shape than L.A. An ultra-paranoid right-wing monster from Lynchburg, VA (no, not that Jerry fellow!) has just been elected President for Life(!) of the United States. His daughter sees that Daddy's not quite right and steals a powerful device and hijacks a flight to L.A. She believes that Jones will be the salvation of the world by leading a revolution onto the mainland.

Enter our anti-hero, Snake Plissken, newly arrested on a weapons-and-morals charge, given a chance by the President (Cliff Robertson) and the U.S. Chief of Police (Stacy Keach) to gain a pardon. All he has to do is go into L.A., get the device, and eliminate the daughter. Simple, right? Wrong! But.... To help him make up his mind, he is infected with a deadly virus which will kill him in 10 hours. He meets a wide assortment of characters, including: Steve Buscemi (winner of the Whit Bissell award for managing to appear in every/any genre film currently available); Pam Grier (blaxploitation queen of the '70's, as a transsexual buddy of Russell's with a powerful mob of her own); and Peter Fonda (as, appropriately enough, a wasted old hippie who saves Kurt's life on more than one occasion).

Yes, situations with this type of action/sci-fi film are somewhat predictable; but fortunately Carpenter's producer Debra Hill (Halloween, The Fog, Escape from New York) and their crew - including make-up master Rick Baker - have concentrated on character development and (naturally) special effects. The effects were done by Buena Vista Special Effects (that's Disney!). They are sensational!

Characterizations are fun. As is to be expected with this type of material, they are larger than life. Kurt Russell (who also co-wrote the screenplay and co-produces the film) is in fine form and fit as a fiddle as Snake. He makes it difficult to believe 15 years have gone by. Buscemi and Grier deliver nice work, especially Grier with a weird modulated voice! Robertson is scary as the President, and one must remind oneself that this is Cliff (not Pat) Robertson. Keach and Fonda also do fine work and trade on their off-screen personae well. Valeria Colino also contributes a fine cameo performance as an egotist and unwitting victim. Michelle Forbes (as Keach's right-hand woman) is also as nicely slimy as he.

Carpenter's direction is as sharp as ever. With a deft perception of what needs to be seen and what needs to be imagined, he propels us head-on into the chaotic miasma of a world gone insane. The visuals of L.A. are stunning and shocking. All that is familiar about L.A. is villified with several in-jokes that should rib Californians with a slight jolt. Paramount Pictures has provided a lush budget which is used wisely and well. When Escape from New York came out in 1981, it was privately financed and worked well within its small budget; but there's nothing like money to spark your imagination and tell your story well. As with its predecessor, Escape from L.A. is a love-it-or-leave-it affair. Personally, I love it! Enjoy!!

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