Escape from L.A.

Escape from L.A. ★★★★

I don't know if I've ever seen the two "Escape" films in close proximity to each other before, but now that I have I can finally confirm what I've long suspected: I definitely prefer "L.A." to "New York".

Also, John Carpenter may be something of a prophet.

If nothing else, some of the things Carpenter tried to warn us about seem to have come to pass...or very well could be the worst case scenario of our current administration. In this film, Cliff Robertson plays an evil nut job from the religious right who (after correctly predicting that a massive earthquake would separate Los Angeles from the mainland) is elected President for Life and has all undesirables (atheists, sexual deviants, and Muslims are on that list) deported to Los Angeles island. Smoking, swearing and red meat (among other things) are now illegal in America. Los Angeles, on the other hand, is ruled by a charismatic Che Guevara wannabe named Cuervo Jones (George Corraface, A.K.A. Christopher Columbus in that abyssmal-looking Salkind-produced Columbus movie that no one remembers). After the president's hot daughter (A.J. Langer) steals a doomsday device and hooks up with Cuervo, the government makes Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell, again doing an extended and awesome Clint Eastwood impersonation) yet another deal to retrieve the weapon, kill the president's daughter, and receive a pardon for all of his immoral acts (I'm thinking that's got to be a lengthy list).

The movie has some lousy mid-90s computer effects, but otherwise I can't think of much to bitch about. Maybe there's some grievances for viewers who DON'T want to see Snake surf or shoot hoops to be avoid being shot or hang-glide into a cheap-looking Disneyland stand-in. But since I am not one of those people, you won't be hearing any such bitching from the likes of me.

Between "New York" and "L.A.", Carpenter made "They Live" and "Big Trouble in Little China" (among others, obviously) but I think those two films are the big reason I like this one more than "New York". With "Big Trouble in Little China" he learned to play up the cheesiness of a silly premise and embrace its ridiculousness and inherent humor. "New York" takes itself, overall, seriously. "L.A.", on the other hand, wears its silliness like a big ol' badge of honor, and that makes it endearing. With "They Live", Carpenter showed a gift for biting satire, or at least amplified that gift to take down Yuppies and rampant, evil capitalism in the most absurd way possible. Carpenter flexes those muscles again here, as well. He satirizes the hypocrisy of the religious right and Greed disguised as Piety but also such West Coast cultural touchstones as plastic surgery, agents and road rage pretty sharply, and in ways that make watching this, for me, a lot more fun than watching "New York". If I had to guess, I'd say that the reason this one contains more sharp, silly satire is because Carpenter is more of a West Coast guy and, therefore, knows the culture more intimately and, therefore, knows more to skewer about it.

"L.A." has a snappy pace. There's really no downtime. It moves like a shark, bouncing from one gloriously goofy action set piece to another so fast that you really don't have much time to contemplate how ridiculous it all is. Time isn't really necessary to realize how ridiculous all of this is, because it's pretty damned ridiculous. I'm not disputing that. But I'm also not saying that's a bad thing. Ridiculousness and absurdity, when executed well enough, can actually become assets, as they are here. Sure, watching Kurt Russell and Peter Fonda surf away from bad guys on a giant wave is ridiculous, but it brought a smile to my face which, honestly, is all this movie is trying to do anyway. And I was smiling and laughing throughout "Escape from L.A.", so I consider it a success. "L.A." is action packed. Much of that action is goofy, sure, but it never failed to excite me either.

The pacing and energy of this movie are the main reason it works so well, but the cast is a huge component of its success as well. Kurt Russell is as badass here as he was supposed to be in "New York". I'll take his "Bangkok Rules" gunfight showdown over anything in the original film, it's one of Kurt's finest moments onscreen. He's a pip here, glowering awesomely through a series of absurd moments and making them work simply through the strength of his wonderful glower. But the movie boasts a murderer's row of talent that makes every moment pop from Corraface (who's a lot of fun as the villain, he's not intimidating, that remains a problem for these movies, but he's fun to watch) to Cliff Robertson (pitch perfect) to Steve Buscemi (wonderfully weaselly as ever) to Pam Grier (as a transsexual crime boss) to Peter Fonda (laidback and assured as always) to Stacy F'in Keach to the hilarious and nearly unrecognizable Bruce Campbell. All of them are having a blast here, and that fun translates to the audience. Again, at least for me. I also appreciated the twangy, Western vibe set up by the score from Carpenter and Shirley Walker. It fits this silly little movie like a glove.

I don't expect to convince anyone else to love "L.A.", but I certainly do. It takes everything that worked about the first one, amplifies it, makes it even more ridiculous, and ratchets up the pace. Its world feels just as fake as in the first one (admittedly faker, but then again L.A. probably feels sort of fake to begin with) but Carpenter has enough budget to fill it with extras and to make it feel more lived in. He goes above it, below it, and explores every bit of the space of this world in a way that budget probably didn't allow in the first film. Also, I LOVED the ending of this movie. It's perfect. "Escape from L.A." is goofy, but it makes that goofiness into an asset, and that's what I love about it. It's a hell of a lot of fun.

Is it too late to get a third one? Because I could totally go for that. Also, if they finally do make that "Escape from New York" remake they've been threatening to do for decades, can they at least cast Kurt Russell as the president this time? Screw it, make him Snake Plissken AND the president! I'd love to see a President Snake!

Block or Report

Dale liked these reviews