Escape from L.A.

A sequel to the 1981 fantasy thriller Escape from New York: director John Carpenter and producer Debra Hill are re-united, and it also brings back Kurt Russel as everybody’s favorite wacko hero Snake Plissken. In the first movie, the US president crash-landed in a Manhatten that had become an open air prison, surrounded by thick walls, and it was up to Snake Plissken to save him. The sequel uses a similar premise.

L.A. has finally suffered 'the big one', the earthquake everybody feared and the city has been cut off from the mainland. The new president of the US wants the country to be as clean as a whistle (even smoking a cigarette is punishable) and therefore uses 'Los Angeles Island’ as an open air prison for all those have comitted a 'moral crime’. The presidents daughter has joined the resistance - led by a Che Gueverra lookalike - and has taken daddy’s doomsday machine with her, so the situation is critical. Snake is sent to L.A. to save the world, or at least the president’s new America.

What to think of it? If Lee Van Cleef is no longer available, Keach is not a bad alternative and Cliff Robertson knows how to portray a power hungry madman, but their characters are caricatures and Steve Buscemi (who’s occasionally funny) is basically playing Steve Buscemi. If the premise is similar, the tone is different; the original was a tongue-in-cheek, but grim fantasy, dark and disturbing; this sequel is almost cartoonish with special effects that often look deliberately poor. In one scene Plissken surfs on a tsunami, only to leap on a convertible driving a high speed.

So what to think of it? I don’t know, not really. The idea of a perfect world, clean as a whistle, is interesting: it was probably inspired by the depiction of a similar utopic/dystopic world in Ira Levin’s The Perfect Day. At one point, the Che Gueverra lookalike starts explaining his ideas to 'unite’ the South against the North, that is: to unite Afro-Americans, Latinos, in short: all non-whites, and simply break through all natural barriers ("We got the North by the balls"). At that particular moment the movies seems to say something about what’s happening here and now, before our very eyes, but the satire remains too playful to become venomous.

What made the first movie work, was the idea of a post-apocalyptic world that was not post-apocalyptic, only futuristic: no catastrophe of apocalyptic dimensions had taken place and yet the future New York looked apocalyptic. Escape from L.A. is semi-apocalyptic - it’s set after the Big One - but it’s not menacing. The final scene of the movie is the best (it’s by the way remarkably close to the ending of Levin’s novel): the evil president is dead, his dream of the perfect world has vanished into thin air. The world is ready to become 'dirty’ again. Snake lights a cigarette, saying:

"Welcome to the real world."

Dir: John Carpenter - Cast: Kurt Russell (Snake Plissken), Steve Buscemi (Map to the Stars Eddie), Peter Fonda (Pipeline), Cliff Robertson (President), A.J. Langer (Utopia), Valeria Golino (Taslima), Stacy Keach (Malloy), Pam Grier (Hershe Las Palmas), Paul Bartel (Congressman)


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