Saturday, January 28, 2012

Throw-Back Movie Reviews: "Escape from L.A." by Alex Schopp

"Escape from L.A." is one of my all-time favorite John Carpenter movies, and the follow-up to the low-budget "Escape from New York" made in 1981. In my opinion, it's the perfect action movie; everything you want in a genre piece like this.

This 1996 release takes place in the distant dystopian future of 2013, where the United States is run by a president looking to create his new "Moral America". Just three years prior, Los Angeles had been split from the rest of the country via a massive earthquake. Using this as one of his tools, the newly-elected president declares L.A. the "city of sin" and banishes anyone to the island that refuses to conform to to his new standards. On the inside of this prison a revolutionary has managed to steal a doomsday device and is now threatening to send the entire planet back to the Dark Ages with the push of a button.

Enter Snake Plissken, again played by Kurt Russell. Plissken is a former Special Forces officer but these days has more problems with the law and authority than anything else. He has been caught for committing a crime and is sentenced to the island as punishment. But just before he's sent away, a secret meeting is held with the President and an agreement is made: retrieve the doomsday device and all crimes will be forgiven; Plissken will be a free man. Plissken accepts and he's dropped onto the island to retrieve the device. From there we're taken on a series of action-packed scenes ultimately resulting in Plissken capturing the device and making off the island and back to the President in just the nick of time.

But that's just the beginning. With Plissken, you know nothing is ever that easy. And he's not the kind of guy that's just going to turn over a nation-destroying weapon to the government. There are plenty of little twists and turns throughout, tons of over-the-top action, and even a hologram scene (yes, by next year we'll have fully interactive life-sized holograms) at the end that you won't want to miss!


I've always said it, but in my eyes, Snake Plissken is the ultimate "dude film" tough guy. I know a lot of people want to throw out Rambo or the Terminator or something like that, but this guy has a style that's unmatched by any of the others. He's tough and cool. He does what he wants and doesn't take any crap from anybody. If you were going to be an action star, this is who you'd want to be (warning: possible man crush alert!).


Other than Russell's impact on this movie, and he does do a great job of carrying this one, there are a variety of supporting cast-mates that all do a bang-up job. Steve Buscemi, Stacy Keach, Peter Fonda, Pam Grier and Bruce Campbell all get an assist in this one. Together, along with Russell, they're the highlight of the movie. Otherwise, the effects aren't very good, and the cheesiness is at a pretty high level. But that's part of John Carpenter's style and you really can't help but enjoy it. He goes over the top with the action and in some ways exploits the genre completely, making an absurdity out of what most other action movies were doing at the time. Carpenter loves playing with these themes in his movies and, in my opinion, makes excellent use out of his material here.


Another humorous feature to this film is citing how badly Carpenter missed on his futuristic dystopian projections. At this point, we're a year away from this future, and like so many other futuristic science-fiction films, they weren't even close. Okay, okay, maybe his visions of L.A. weren't too far off (one week into my blog and I'm already bashing on L.A.! What a start..). Anyway, to be fair, this was probably never meant to be a real-world scenario. I've always felt like it was more an exaggeration of the way the world could have turned/will turn. I don't think Carpenter expected that anything like what he put in his movie was only a few short years down the road. It was just a vehicle for an extreme example of power and corruption and how the different classes of people are treated and handled in this country and in the world. I don't want to get overly political or anything here (I just showed up to enjoy a nice action movie!) but there are deeper elements here that if you want to you can find the real-world stems.


The bottom line is that this movie is a violent yet fun action movie that can provide you plenty of thrills if you let it. It never tries to take itself too seriously or pretend it's anything it isn't. If you can get past some of the questionable effects, you should be able to get plenty of value out of it. It's just pure fun. Go rent this today!