Demolition Man (1993)
Release Date: October 8th, 1993 MPAA Rating: R
Director: Marco Brambilla Actors: Sylvester Stallone, Wesley Snipes, Sandra Bullock, Benjamin Bratt, Denis Leary, Nigel Hawthorne
n Los Angeles in 1996, a maniac hijacks a municipal bus with 30 passengers and takes them to a barricaded derelict building that he’s set on fire. In order to catch the psychopathic Simon Phoenix (Wesley Snipes), the LAPD must send in their own loose-cannon elite soldier: Sergeant John Spartan (Sylvester Stallone). Although he arrests Phoenix, the hostages’ bodies are discovered in the building after it explodes and Spartan’s lawyers are unable to confirm whether or not his actions resulted in their deaths. The once decorated officer is sentenced to 70 years in California’s Cryo-Penitentiary, where he’ll be frozen without parole until at least 2046, with his behavior altered through a rehabilitation program electronically linked to his brain.
In August of 2032, Warden William Smithers of the San Angeles Police Department reports to Lieutenant Lenina Huxley (Sandra Bullock), a young functionary longing for chaos and disharmony amidst the currently serene, crimeless world. Death, destruction, weaponry, graffiti, and even cursing (thanks to the Verbal Morality Statute) have been practically nonexistent for 22 years. When Simon Phoenix is puzzlingly brought out of his cryo-stasis, he goes berserk, slaughters the guards in the prison, and flees. Without any moral restraints, the sadistic Simon proceeds to attack and murder anyone standing in his way on his uncanny mission to acquire armaments and assassinate underground rebellion leader Edgar Friendly (Denis Leary). Unable to contend with Simon’s unrelenting destruction, the authorities have no choice but to unfreeze and reinstate John Spartan, hoping he can once again apprehend the indocile criminal.
“We’re police officers – we’re not trained to handle this kind of violence!” exclaims officer Erwin (Rob Schneider) as he witnesses, via security camera, Simon’s path of ruination. In this hysterical take on a semi-totalitarian futuristic governance, where citizens are tracked by coded and implanted microchips and vehicle movements are linked to the police database, no unnatural deaths have occurred in over 16 years. Guns are only viewable in a museum. But the downfall is that procedures and automated regulations replace spontaneous decision-making and adaptive skills, leaving the peaceful inhabitants of San Angeles incapable of defending themselves or combating the likes of the savage Phoenix. There’s clever commentary on gun control, violence, and the loss of free will somewhere buried beneath the nonstop excitement.
It starts with explosions, gunfire, characters smashing through glass windows, careening down staircases, and lunging through five foot flames – all before the opening credits roll. “Demolition Man” also contains riotous comedic elements, utilizing the unfamiliarity of technological and societal advancements to orchestrate situational comedy that is regularly laugh-out-loud funny. Self-aware acknowledgement of glib witticisms prior to hostile engagement, the mutilation of catchphrases by the inexperienced Huxley and the smartly timed deliveries by Spartan, and references to ‘90s pop culture make the proceedings even wittier.
But with slam-bang relish, “Demolition Man” is first and foremost an action epic, focusing on larger-than-life characters and their sensational devastation, enacting comic book feats of heroism, gunplay, martial arts, and superhero invincibility. Countless grand ideas and subtle details are hidden amongst the top layer of mindless destruction and amusing expletive spewing. The Schwarzenegger Presidential Library, the 61st Amendment, seashells instead of toilet paper, overwhelmingly polite linguistics, the Franchise Wars (with Taco Bell as the sole remaining restaurant), the obligatory futuristic weapon that is the Magnetic Accelerator Gun, and doctrines stating that anything deemed unhealthy or unsafe is illegalized – such as spicy foods, salt, sports, sexual reproduction without a license, and physical contact – make “Demolition Man” a multi-layered science-fiction curio.
As notions of losing control over an unnatural tool, a la Frankenstein’s monster, surface from all of the carnage, notes on the rampant corruption in a utopian society, inherent abuses of power, the inhibition of freedoms of speech and choice, control through religion, and poverty of the future confined to an underground society of thieves, also poke through the gripping mayhem. Exhilarating chase sequences and thrilling stunts further demonstrate the clash of stark contrasts when the hyper-violent past collides with the tranquil future. It’s an action-packed, highly diverting blend of colorful characters, fiery visuals, and intense sci-fi themes, supplemented with a facetious vision of law and order and civility and anarchy… and Rambo.
– Mike Massie