Released by Paramount
Release Date: Aug. 9th, 1996
Starring Kurt Russell, Steve Buscemi, Pam Grier, and Bruce Campbell
Written by John Carpenter, Debra Hill, and Kurt Russell
Directed by John Carpenter
Rated R (violence and some language)
There were many badass movies that came out in the 80's. Lethal Weapon, Predator, Die Hard, The Thing, They Live were are products of the 80's, but the movie that lead the way was a smaller movie. That movie was Escape from New York. Escape also gave one of the greatest badass characters in the form of Snake Plissken. This movie lead that way for all of the 80's action movies.
If you don't remember the plot I will give you a refresher course. New York is a major city no more. Now it is a prison that houses the worst of the worst. The President of the U.S. is traveling on Air Force One when it is shot down. He escapes in a pod and lands in New York. Snake Plissken, an outlaw who has just been captured by the police is sent into New York to retrieve the President and the case he was carrying.
That is pretty much the plot of the movie. There is very little in the way of character development other than Snake is a badass and the President is a pussy. We don't need to know much other than Snake is a take no prisoners badass. We don't need anything else because the movie is not about anything other than Snake doing what he needs to do.
Escape from New York came right in the middle of an incredible hot streak that John Carpenter was on. Starting in 1976 with Assault on Precinct 13 and ending in 1988 with They Live, Carpenter gave us one incredible movie after another. Carpenter is one of very few directors that can hold the honor of such a string of classics.
He didn't stick to one genre either. He gave us some action (Assault on Precinct 13, Big Trouble in Little China), horror (Halloween, The Fog, Prince of Darkness) sci-fi (The Thing, They Live), and drama (Starman). Each one of these movies is a classic in their own right.
But Carpenter hit a bad streak in the early 90's. Starting with the bomb that was Memoirs of an Invisible Man, Carpenter made disappointing movie after disappointing movie. After remaking The Village of the Damned, Carpenter knew that he needed a hit. He turned to one of his most beloved movies, Escape from New York, and concocted a sequel to his hit badass movie.
Written by Carpenter, Debra Hill, and Kurt Russell, the movie begins much the same way that New York began. Only this time L.A. has become an island after a massive earthquake. The President of the United States, after having predicted the earthquake, is given a lifetime term and makes L.A. into a prison.
After this little backstory we are introduced once again to Snake Plissken. He is about to be deported when he gets an offer he can't refuse. He has to go into L.A. and get a black box that the president's daughter stole. If he can do that in the time allotted then he will get a full presidential pardon.
This sounds an awful like the plot to New York, but they say "if it ain't broke don't fix it." The movie is set up very nicely with some unimpressive CGI, but we didn't come to see this movie for the CGI did we? No. We came for Snake and adventures in being a badass. But the problem lies in the fact that this movie is about ten years too late. Since Snake's first brush with the law we have seen many badasses come and go. We were introduced to the badassness of Steven Seagal, Jean-Claude Van Damme, and Jeff Speakman. Audiences had also found badasses from other countries in the form of Chow Yun-fat and Jet Li. Snake's antics don't seem that badass anymore.
The bad guy is also a problem. The original had The Duke and he fucked with the president by handcuffing him to the wall and shooting at him, while making him tell The Duke that is "A number one". He made the president into a whiny sissy man. And because he was played by Isaac Hayes the character is given even more badass credentials.
The bad guy here is no match for The Duke. His name is Cuervo Jones and he looks like a Che-type freedom fighter. But there isn't any badassness to him. Sure he conned the president's daughter into stealing some black box that we never really believe that he is going to use, but he just doesn't do anything that seperates him from the other stock villains of countless action movies. He's just another "one of the guys" that we are so used to seeing in these types of movies.
Snake is really given anybody substanial to play off of either. In New York he was given the aforementioned Isaac Hayes, but he is also given Harry Dean Stanton, Ernest Bourgnine, and Adrienne Barboue. Here he is given Steven Buscemi and George Corraface. I mean who the fuck is George Corraface? I know he played Christopher Columbus in that really shitty Columbus movie, but he doesn't have the awesomeness that is needed to be the foil to Snake Plissken. Steve Buscemi is a fine actor, but he doesn't seem like he belongs in this movie. This role should have gone to someone different, but I can't think of anybody who could do it.
The only people that Snake gets to play off of are actors who are only in the movie for a few minutes. Bruce Campbell plays the Surgeon General of Beverly Hills, catering to all of the residents who are addicted to plastic surgery. Perter Fonda plays an aging surfer who really serves no purpose to the story other than giving Snake a totally non-badass scene were he surfs. Pam Grier plays a transsexual who use to run with Snake back in the day. All of these actors and their characters would have served Snake better if they had been in the movie longer. In fact any of these actors would have been better at playing the villian than George Corraface.
Escape from L.A. can't be the movie that Carpenter wanted to make. I am convinced that there had to be some studio interference at some point. Carpenter has made so many great movies that I refuse to believe that this is entirely his vision. But given his track record after They Live I can kind of see it. It is a shame if it is true. This movie could have been so much better if they had dropped the budget down and focused on not trying to pussify Snake. Even though he does pull a pretty badass movie at the end, this doesn't seem like the same Snake from New York. He seems to have a heart and that is one thing that Snake does not and should not have.
I can not recommend this movie to anyone outside of Carpenter/Russell fans. Looking back on the movie fourteen years later has really not be kind. The movie is a shallow reminder of the Carpenter movie that we love and the badassness that Russell had. This is a very poor excuse of a follow-up to Escape from New York.