Film Review: ESCAPE FROM L.A. (1996)

ESCAPE FROM L.A. **** USA 1996 Dir: John Carpenter. 99 mins

Paramount gave Carpenter his biggest budget to date to make his only sequel as director : the result, co-written with Debra Hill and Kurt Russell, was one of the most bleakest “fun” movies of the 1990’s. It follows other big 90’s sequels by reworking its predecessor’s plot: by the year 2013, L.A. is excluded from the U.S. mainland, becoming an “island of the damned” for those guilty of “moral crimes”. A Trumpian wall was built around the previous City of Angels, with the rest of America cleaned up (no smoking, no red meat, no foul language, etc.) and society’s most unsavoury characters (prostitutes, runaways, Pam Grier’s transgender carjacker) deported. The country has a cowardly right-wing bastard for a President (Cliff Robertson) who wants to make America great again and alludes to The Final Solution as a positive. When his daughter is stranded with a gang of revolutionaries in L.A., war hero / traitor Snake Plissken is promised a full pardon (“Sounds familiar” he growls) if he rescues her and the black box she stole.

Ostensibly a big budget, more self-conscious remake of the earlier film – complete with “I thought you’d be taller…” replacing “I thought you were dead…” as the running gag – this sees Snake encountering a fresh selection of oddballs in a walled-off city. Steve Buscemi is a hoot as the relentlessly chirpy “Maps to the Stars Eddie”, still persisting with his celebrity tours despite the death of the entertainment industry; Peter Fonda’s ageing hippy surfs with Snake down Wilshire Boulevard via some memorably awful mid-90’s CGI and Bruce Campbell oversees a clinic of plastic surgery fails as the “Surgeon General of Beverly Hills”. It hasn’t aged as well as its older predecessor thanks to the prominent grunge music, holograms and digital FX, but its vision of a decadent future L.A. is wonderfully sour : Sunset Boulevard reduced to rubble, the Hollywood sign on fire and Disney Land in ruins (“the place kept changing owners…finally went bankrupt…”). Despite the Hollywood budget, it’s as loveably anarchic and bitter as the original and reworks NEW YORK’s cynical sign-off with one of the most subversive mainstream endings of the period: Snake scoffs “Land of the free…” and breaks the fourth wall while casually sending humanity back to the Dark Ages. Just because he can.

Review by Steven West

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