Movie Review: Escape from LA

Standard

Wanted criminal Snake Plissken is sent to the island of LA, where America’s undesirables are deported to, in order to recover the control to a catastrophic weapon.

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John Carpenter, 1996

Years after the events in the prison that New York has become, Snake Plissken’s (Kurt Russell) particular services are once again required by the dystopian US government of the future. This time there’s a new president, and his daughter Utopia (AJ Langer) has stolen the remote control to a weapon that has the potential to bring a new dark age to the world, delivering it to her boyfriend on the island of LA, Cuervo Jones (Georges Corraface). Cuervo lives on LA with all of the declared “undesirables” of the new Moral America – anyone who doesn’t fit in with the government’s moral code is ousted from society. Snake is understandably reluctant to help, but with some persuasion he submarines in to LA and begins his search for the remote control. His progress is helped and, more often, hindered by an assortment of colourful characters along the way as he fights the clock and his own fading health in order to find Cuervo and recover the device.

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When I embarked upon Escape from LA, I was actually unaware that it was the sequel to Escape from New York. I knew both films existed, but I wasn’t clear on which one came first in the canon, so when LA popped up on Netflix I excitedly clicked on it. My mistake. Escape from LA is, in fact, the far inferior 1996(!) sequel to the 1981 (!!) New York, and it is…something else. Seeing it without the framework that New York provides, LA is definitely an interesting ride. It’s like a train crash – it just keeps providing more bizarre, explosive horror that you can’t look away from. It’s loaded to the gills with quality actors in flashy, off-the-wall roles, most of whom are completely superfluous to the plot and of varying quality. From Steve Buscemi as Map To The Stars Eddie (the kind of late 80s/early 90s irritating, loyalty-flipping sidekick that got old fast, but it’s Buscemi so he’s not too bad) to Pam Grier as transgender car thief Hershe Las Palmas (horrifically offensive in her treatment, but that would make a great drag name) and Bruce Campbell as the Surgeon General of Beverly Hills (unrecognisable and scary), there are more celebrities in this movie than you can shake a stick at. Very few of these supporting characters hang around for more than a scene or two, and they continue to be introduced well into the third act. To me, the most interesting characters by a long way were Stacy Keach and the fabulous Michelle Forbes as military toughs. Linking them all is the seemingly inhuman gravelly tough guy Snake Plissken, who is…well, he’s something else.

Based only on this movie, one would not understand the appeal of Snake Plissken. Even though he’s constantly in mortal danger and clinging to life by the fingernails, you’d never know it from Escape from LA. He’s basically a superhero in this film, totally unphased by deadly viruses, bullets to the leg, several concussions, and more. He seems to be able to get around with total ease, and EVERYBODY knows exactly who he is on sight. Women throw themselves at him, men (for the most part) try to kill him. He’s a bizarre caricature, bordering on self-parody, but without being funny. In addition to the celeb cameos, the film tries to distract you from its thin plot by throwing as many LA staples as it can into the film. There’s a terrible CGI surfing scene (which is actually hilarious in how ridiculous it is), a weird basketball shoot-or-die scene, a tour of celebrity mansions. It’s insanely over-the-top, but not in any way that coalesces into something that scenes intentional, satirical, or cutting. In spite of way too many bait-and-switch moments, the ending actually IS effective – it’s just a shame the movie had to go through so many flaming hoops to get there.

 

Escape from LA on IMDb

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