John Carpenter's Escape From L.A.

1996, R, 100 min. Directed by John Carpenter. Starring Kurt Russell, Stacy Keach, Steve Buscemi, Peter Fonda, George Corraface, Cliff Robertson, Pam Grier, Michelle Forbes, Bruce Campbell, Valeria Golina.

REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Aug. 9, 1996

It's been 15 years since Carpenter's futuristic cowboy-noir archetype Snake Plissken (Russell) unpenned the President from the New York City Maximum Security Prison, but then as Snake himself liked to note, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” Of course, there have been a few minor revisions to the United States since then: The “Big One” finally hit California, decimating Los Angeles and leaving the city and its environs less than landlocked, Donald Pleasance's position as President has been filled by the bible-thumping histrionics of an apparently de-lobed Cliff Robertson, and the resultant political climate has left the country a theocratic police state. Citizens convicted of moral crimes (pre-marital sex, smoking, eating red meat, voting Democratic, etc.) are packed off to the island of Los Angeles where they are left to fend for themselves against the roving gangs and genuine psychotics that litter the island like so much post-quake detritus. On top of all this, the President's daughter, Utopia, has turned seditious, absconding with a “black box” weapons system and hijacking Air Force One to L.A. where she's joined forces with rebel leader Cuervo Jones (Corraface). Tough break. Enter Snake Plissken, newly captured by the United States Police Force. Given a choice between death in 10 hours via a particularly virulent form of neurotoxin, or going along with the President's plan to recapture the stolen weapon and kill Utopia, the ever-perspicacious Plissken opts for the latter and Escape from L.A. is off like a shot. For those who have seen Carpenter's original film, nothing much has really changed -- different coast, different MacGuffin, but still an almost identical story line. Once in Los Angeles, Snake makes his way through the various ruined tourist attractions toward his rendezvous with Utopia and Cuervo. Along the way, he meets up with a number of the local flora and fauna, among them Steve Buscemi as the conniving “Map to the Stars” Eddie, rival ganglord Hershe (Grier), and the (literally) twisted Surgeon General of Beverly Hills (Sam Raimi regular Campbell). Still, familiarity doesn't necessarily breed contempt, and fans of the New York leg of the Snake saga will slip back into the desperado's world with a comfortable grin. Carpenter keeps the pace moving at roughly the speed of sound, and his dark wry wit is evident throughout. Above it all, though, is Russell's inimitably sexy Snake, so unchanged between films it seems as though it's only been a long Labor-Day weekend since the A-Number-One Duke of New York got his. To be brutally honest, the City of Angels doesn't completely pack the gritty punch that the Big Apple did, but then Green Day aren't the Ramones, either. Suffice to say, Plissken's jaunt westward is true to Carpenter's (and producer/co-writer Debra Hill's) original spirit. Loud, rollicking, alternately ultra-violent and hilarious, Escape from L.A. is Snake redux, and what more do you need, really?

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John Carpenter's Escape From L.A., John Carpenter, Kurt Russell, Stacy Keach, Steve Buscemi, Peter Fonda, George Corraface, Cliff Robertson, Pam Grier, Michelle Forbes, Bruce Campbell, Valeria Golina

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