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ESCAPE FROM L.A.

     

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, May 8, 2020

EDITOR’S NOTE: The Shout! Factory continues to give ‘special-edition’ Blu-ray attention to cult favorites, the latest being this 15-years-later sequel by John Carpenter, which I liked in a turn-off-your-brain kind of way. My review was published in the Deseret News on Aug. 9, 1996.

The anti-hero is back.

Forget the sensitive macho men of the ’90s, a la Arnold Schwarzenegger in "Eraser," who tells Vanessa Williams that it's what's in here (pointing to his chest) that counts.

Kurt Russell's Snake Plisskin just wants an Uzi and some smokes. And if a bad guy gets in his way, he gets popped. No apologies.

"John Carpenter's Escape from L.A." seems purposely designed as a retro-hero piece, a throwback to the era of "Dirty Harry" — or, more specifically, that other Clint Eastwood series, the Man With No Name in "A Fistful of Dollars" and its sequels.

Plisskin may wear an eye-patch, have a snake tattoo on his stomach and swagger around while garbed in leather but there's no escaping his Eastwood roots when he speaks in that gravelly growl or postures himself to face-off a half-dozen gunmen or mutters a dark quip after blowing them all away.

     

Kurt Russell, left, and Peter Fonda surf along Wilshire Blvd. in 'Escape from L.A.' (1996)

"Escape from L.A." is a sequel to the 1981 Carpenter-Russell collaboration "Escape from New York." Or, maybe it's a remake, since the story is a carbon copy, despite the coastal switch.

This time, it's 2013 and an earthquake has dislodged Los Angeles from the rest of the country, making it a prison-island (for "prostitutes, atheists and runaways").

Meanwhile, mainland America, under the right-wing religious-fanatic rule of a new president (Cliff Robertson), has become ridiculously strict. And if you break the rules — no smoking, no cussing, no sex outside of marriage, no red meat, etc. — you are banished to Los Angeles.

The plot revolves around a stolen disc, which is, of course, vital to national — and international — security. It's in the possession of a terrorist in Los Angeles, Cuervo Jones (George Corraface, made up to look like Che Guevara), who got it from the president's rebellious daughter Utopia (A.J. Langer). (She decries her father's rule as a "corrupt theocracy.")

Plisskin is brought in by the country's chief cop (Stacy Keach) to retrieve the disc (the president's daughter is expendable) and a suspenseful deadline is provided by a designer virus that will kill him if he doesn't return within nine hours.

     

But getting there is all the fun, as Carpenter takes advantage of a bigger budget this time around, which allows for some enjoyably ridiculous effects — ranging from the devastation of Los Angeles to the re-creation of familiar (now bombed-out) L.A. landmarks to a pair of surfers (Russell and Peter Fonda) riding a tidal wave alongside the freeway.

Fonda's character, the ultimate burned-out surfer, is a riot, as are Bruce Campbell (under heavy makeup) as the "surgeon general" (who performs butchery in the name of plastic surgery), Pam Grier as a sex-changed crime kingpin, Valeria Golino as a damsel-in-distress (in an "Elvira" getup) and especially Steve Buscemi as a wacked-out, fast-talking agent to local mobsters.

The comedy is what makes "Escape from L.A." work as well as it does.

Sure, it's loony and crazed, and, predictably, religion is one of the more frequently skewered targets here. But the satirical punch, the wacked-out characters and the crazy look of the film, along with all the assured performances, make this Carpenter's best work in years.

"Escape from L.A." is rated R for considerable violence, some gore, profanity, vulgarity and brief partial nudity.