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
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!!