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Sunday 28 July 2019

Burl reviews Escape from L.A.! (1996)

Ha ha, it’s me - call me Burl! Yes, I’m here to review not the first, but the second adventure of Snake Plisskin, which is to say the time he had to Escape from L.A.! Now, like just about everybody, I’m very fond of his first go-round, Escape from New York! That’s just a terrific picture! But I remember going to the theater to see the new one when it came out back in 1996, and I came reeling out with my brain full of skunkfire! It was a terrific disappointment!
Watching it again more recently, I found more to like in the movie, but not much! It’s certainly on the bottom level of John Carpenter pictures, along with Ghosts of Mars and The Ward, and so very remote from the heights of The Thing and Halloween!
Snake Plisskin is still the monocular man of action we know and love from 1982! It seems there’s another godly hypocrite in the White House, played by Cliff Robertson in Malone mode, and he’s made L.A., that heathen city, into a dumping ground for everyone he doesn’t like: atheists and so forth! Ha ha, Los Angeles is a big city, but I don’t think it could fit everybody this joker doesn’t like! Ol’ Burl, for example, would be sent there immediately, and I would probably set up shop in the Academy screening room and just watch movies all day!
Of course Snake has no time for that: he has to get back some important trinket from Robertson’s rebellious daughter, who has set up shop with notorious gangster-terrorist Cuervo Jones; and for Snake there’s a countdown clock (referred to even more insistently than it was in New York) and gangs to fight, and, as in the previous picture, a terrific supporting cast! As before, everyone he meets either knows him or has heard of him, but now, instead of everyone thinking he was dead, they all thought he’d be taller!
There are also lots of really ropey CGI trick effects (that shark!) and a lugubrious mise-en-scene that drains the action scenes of any pizzazz! Oh John, how did it come to this! You’re a terrific action director! It doesn’t help that so much of the movie plays as a pale imitation of the earlier movie’s highlights! Instead of gliding onto the World Trade Center, Snake submarines onto a freeway ramp! When he’s captured by the bad guys, he doesn’t fight their biggest man in a ring, as he did in New York; no, he must play basketball! At least the doo-dad he’s after is a mini disc instead of a tape cassette, ha ha!
The general reduction in amazingness extends to the supporting cast, which, as I said, is terrific! Just not as terrific! Stacey Keach is fine, but he’s no Lee Van Cleef! Steve Buscemi is a wonderful actor, but he’s not Harry Dean Stanton! Peter Fonda is great, but Ernest Borgnine is greater! And George Corraface is most assuredly no Isaac Hayes! We also get Pam Grier and Bruce Campbell, wonderful performers both, but somewhat underused here!
On the plus side - and Burl always looks for that, ha ha! - Kurt Russell doesn’t miss a trick in his Snake Plisskin shtick! A couple of the fights are pretty good, and there are pleasing ideas or bits of design lurking in the margins! There’s a little cavalcade of Rick Baker makeups in the Surgeon General of Beverly Hills scene, which is always nice! And, as with every movie about the destruction of L.A. made by people who live there, there’s a certain glee taken in the city’s demise, with potshots aplenty taken at its ways and its people!
And of course, in its depiction of the demagogic Robertson, the picture has a certain prescience; enough, maybe, to serve as a cautionary tale along the line of Sinclair Lewis’s book It Can’t Happen Here! And even at his worst, John Carpenter is still John Carpenter, and there’s some pleasing carpentry throughout the movie! I give Escape from L.A. one and a half full-court free throws!

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