John Carpenter's Escape from L.A. Reviews
Escape from L.A. had over the top plastic surgeon serial killers, tsunami surfing, and transgender paragliding assaults on a clone farm. The movie simply does not take itself seriously enough to enjoy a cool factor beyond, "I have seen the worst movie in the world and it was Escape from L.A."
Escape from L.A. Feels less like a sequel to Escape from New York than a remake. The story context is slightly different to its predecessor, but the plot structure and general premise is identical to Escape from New York as are many of the plot points. This is tedious since viewers have already experienced the entire story once before in a more original form where the story context had far more intelligent political commentary to support it. This time, it feels simply like a dull repeat which relies on increased production values to distract from all this. John Carpenter has admitted that he and Kurt Russell got too obsessed with nostalgia when writing the film to create much of an original story, and this is a key problem. However, the bigger issue with Escape from L.A. isn't so much that it is a remake but more that it is a parody.
Escape from L.A. doesn't attempt to reach out to the same style of counterculture drama that anchored the screenplay origins of Escape from New York. Instead, it pursues a far more satirical angle. The different decades that each Snake Plissken story is set in gives the key focus of each film a different narrative drive. Rather than focusing on depicting a world of totalitarian government, this is a meagre afterthought in Escape from L.A. which ties into its use of religious obsession as a threat to existence. Given that the setting of the film is Los Angeles, a key theme in the film is satire of the vanity in contemporary popular culture. We see a world where the people are obsessed with vanity. While the central villains of the film are people struggling for power, the others are ridiculously obsessed with body image or extreme sports at a disregard for actual human life. There is certainly a lot of validity in the society being depicted as the media-obsessed world we live in now shows people falling into the same patterns of the characters in the film within their everyday life. However, it isn't all that entertaining to watch in Escape from L.A. because this is all treated like one big joke.
The humourous tone of Escape from L.A. is its ultimate downfall. Rather than using its themes to focus on making intelligent points about society, Escape from L.A. is far more interested in using the plot structure of Escape from New York with the genre style of Big Trouble in Little China (1986), another collaboration between John Carpenter and Kurt Russell. Much like Big Trouble in Little China, Escape from L.A. Makes an effort to be an overblown adventure that takes countless genres and crams them into a singular narrative with a humourous tone. That worked in a story about a trucker battling mystical sorcerers in Chinatown, but John Carpenter already established what viewers liked about Snake Plissken with Escape from New York and betrays them with his change of tone. Escape from L.A. doesn't unfold as much of a story; it is more of a series of vignettes and oddball sketches set in a singular universe while audiences are consistently dealt celebrity cameos to keep them enticed. Given the unserious mood of the film, the characters follow in the footsteps of the bigger picture and end up being mostly irrelevant to the overall narrative and uninteresting. Escape from L.A. produces little intelligent thought in the minds of viewers because there isn't that much intelligence in the writing to begin with, and so it falls into being essentially a parody of its predecessor.
But I will give the film credit for its slick production values. There is a bigger exploration of the tangible universe in Escape from L.A. due to its $50 million budget being a sharp increase from its predecessor's meagre $6 million. The stunts and action scenes feel somewhat overblown at times, but the set pieces are cool and the cinematography is effective. However, the same cannot be said about the visual effects. The first sign of this comes from the beginning of the film where we see Snake's submarine journey into Los Angeles which is executed entirely out of visual effects with no practicality to it whatsoever. As well as being overkill with its excess of CGI reliance, the visual effects aren't impressive. This animation is of a very stiff quality, and there are too many moments which are explicit with their use of green screen. When considering that John Carpenter's previous film Memoirs of an Invisible Man (1992) featured visual effects that were considered groundbreaking at the time of its release four years prior to Escape from L.A., the fact that this film falters so much in the same department comes as quite a burdening surprise. Visual effects are no speciality of Escape from L.A. which is a surprise given the extensive expense of the film's budget.
The one aspect of Escape from L.A. which is consistently awesome is the musical score. The intro begins with an altered version of the original theme song, one that's given a more contemporary touch of rock. This gives the viewer a powerful feeling of nostalgia but also a sense that the film has updated itself in this department and done it well. This integrates John Carpenter's fondness for both synthesizer music and rock music in a singular theme. The majority of the music in the film has a very western feel to which gives the experience a decent edge, so it certainly offers the appeal of a good soundtrack.
But with such a misguided tone, even the cast of Escape from L.A. cannot light much up with their appeal.
Kurt Russell doesn't have the same edge anymore. Snake Plissken is still a fearless badass, but he is commonly condescended by the comic tone of the film. For some reason, Escape from L.A. Takes one of the most iconic action heroes of all time and pushes him through misguided comic territory. Why Kurt Russell would do this to his own creation is beyond me, but given that he is both the writer and the star of Escape from L.A. It is clearly an idea he supported to the end. I can't gather why, and it doesn't forward the man any credibility. Rather than seeing Snake Plissken fearlessly wade through a world of crime, we see him cracking hammy dialogue as he surfs and plays basketball. Snake Plissken has enough of a lasting legacy established by the Escape from New York for it not to be tainted by Escape from L.A., but the story does not live up to the legend surrounding the character. Kurt Russell is as handsome as ever and remains confidently involved in the character enough to make it forgettable that he is acting, but there isn't much in the way of characterization to expand upon the character's legacy.
Steve Buscemi is a rather annoying presence though. Normally I get a kick out of the actor, but since Escape from L.A just shouldn't be a comedy I can't see him as much more than pretentious. In comparison to the charming and friendly nature of Ernest Borgnine, Steve Buscemi just talks nonstop like he did in Fargo (1996) without ever really having a moment of charm. There is no subtlety to Steve Buscemi in Escape from L.A., just an endless cycle of repetition which isn't entertaining the first time or in any of the following times.
Peter Fonda should have been given a much better role, but instead he cameos in two scenes as a surfer named Pipeline who seeingly talks to himself and has nothing interesting to say. And Pam Grier wasn't any kind of fun presence simply because her character was too oddball.
Nevertheless, I thought that Cliff Robertson and Stacy Keach brought in convincing supporting efforts with decent drama that wasn't hindered by the presence of lame humour. And regardless of how ridiculous the comedy of the film is, it's impossible to go wrong with a cameo from Bruce Campbell.
Escape from L.A. boasts a big budget, but with little of that money going into an original story or good visual effects, the experience ends up an overblown self-parody with a misguided campy tone, a shortage of action and a lack of intelligent writing.