Genre: Sci-Fi Thriller Running Time: 1 hr. 41 min.
Release Date: August 9th, 1996 MPAA Rating: R
Director: John Carpenter Actors: Kurt Russell, Steve Buscemi, Peter Fonda, Cliff Robertson, Valeria Golino, Stacy Keach, Pam Grier, Bruce Campbell, Michelle Forbes, A.J. Langer, Ina Romeo
scape from L.A.” marks the return of cult action icon Snake Plissken, a character that couldn’t remain away from the big screen for long. And though the result is undeniably fun, it’s not capable of capturing the campy entertainment of the original – thanks to horrid special effects and some wildly unbelievable action sequences that are too much even for this kind of grindhouse fodder. Kurt Russell is back, more macho than ever and still tackling the unimaginable – as well as assisting with the film’s screenplay. Along with director John Carpenter, their attempt to encompass a much larger view of world deterioration and the burdensome truths of freedom, “Escape from L.A.” is a somewhat repetitious, largely unnecessary chapter in the memoirs of the ineffaceable Snake Plissken.
The law once again apprehends Snake; in exchange for a full pardon from all his crimes, he must accept a suicide mission based in the epicenter of a walled-off Californian war zone. In the year 2013, Los Angeles has been transformed into a giant prison colony (just like New York), separated from the mainland due to a massive earthquake. Snake’s mission is to retrieve a black box doomsday device, which has fallen into the hands of a South American gang leader by the name of Cuervo Jones (George Corraface). Brawling his way through deranged henchmen, shooting hoops on a life-or-death court, and escaping the clutches of a mass mutilator – all while trying to beat the effects of a 12-hour poison – Snake is guaranteed action, adventure, and a few lusty femme fatales.
The first half of “Escape from L.A.” feels dangerously close to a remake of “Escape from New York.” Whether or not the goal was tribute, homage, or familiarity, the scenes of escorting Snake to the hall of justice, propositioning him on the recovery mission, and even arming him with weaponry are so identical to the original that they could double as flashbacks. His descent into the quarantined city and his meeting up with a former fellow miscreant are also bizarrely corresponding. And the list continues, with subtler items including Snake acquiring a leg injury and having a form of lethal encouragement planted on his body, the appearance of transvestites, and even the adornments on the enemy’s cars.
But curious new characters tend to keep things interesting. Bruce Campbell makes a cameo as the Surgeon General of Beverly Hills, the leader of a group of deformed psychos who must continually transplant fresh human body parts to maintain their sagging and muscle-less features. Steve Buscemi plays a grinning swindler and Cliff Robertson is the corrupt, power-mad American president. Peter Fonda makes an especially degrading and pathetic walk-on as an estranged surfer who rides a giant wave with Snake – in the most ridiculous scene in the movie. His monotonic dialogue and expressionless visage is most certainly not a highlight of his career. And notorious B-movie stunner Pam Grier has a shocking bit part as a transvestite villainess who guides Snake on a hang-gliding ambush on Cuervo’s military base – in the second most ridiculous scene in the film.
Some of the numerous, offbeat personas bring welcome diversity, while others only help to make things more uncomfortably bizarre. Outrageous location designs comparably aid the style, as Snake treks through a highly visual postapocalyptic wasteland, teaching gunslingers about “Bangkok rules” and educating opponents on the gritty, no-nonsense attitude that never leaves his side. Packed with an inane amount of notably bad special effects and deplorable acting (by nearly everyone but Russell), “Escape From L.A.” tries to pack an abundance of unmixable ideas into a single film – as if Carpenter knew this would be the last outing for his signature antihero. As a result, a ridiculous amount of implausible and poorly conceived sea, land, and air stunts work their way into the picture – none of which are taken seriously. In this sequel, no one comments to Snake anymore about their perceptions that he was dead. They already know the answer.
– Mike Massie