Escape from L.A. (1996)
Directed by: John Carpenter
Starring: Kurt Russell, Stacy Keach, Steve Buscemi, Peter Fonda, Georges Corraface
Release date: August 9, 1996
Running time: 101 minutes
I had never seen this movie before. The only things I knew going in were "Snake Plissken" and "surfing." That's it. I had no idea I was going to see a movie from 15 years earlier replayed beat for beat, but with a whole bunch of stupid thrown in. It’s like they dumped the first movie into a blender and poured in some Surge, Blink 182's Cheshire Cat, and a couple episodes of Rocket Power and blended the shit out of them. Funny enough, that combination sounds like the best possible movie.
This review is spoiler filled so if you haven’t seen it yet…
Watch this movie if: You want to watch Escape from New York with a heavy dose of totally radical 90's
The movie starts with an updated version of the theme from New York. It's basically the same, but with a tinge of 90's butt rock. Looking back, this should have told me something.
It’s 1998 and somehow the world still exists after Snake destroyed a tape that would prevent nuclear war. Los Angeles is a shithole full of crime and sin and an evangelical presidential candidate (Uncle Ben from Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy) warns that an “angry fist of god” will strike, and the waters will rise to separate this sinful city. Why L.A. of all cities? Because Chicago or Detroit wouldn't let Carpenter stick it to those kooks up in Hollyweird.
In the yeaaar twooo thooouuusaaaaaaaand…a 9.6 magnitude earthquake completely shithouses L.A. with state of the art Sharknado-esque special effects, causing it to break off from the mainland and becoming an island stretching from Malibu to Anaheim. It's easy to forget this, but the late 90's were a magical time where a movie with a 50 million dollar budget could dump millions upon millions of dollars into state of the art CGI and it winds up looking the exact same as a SyFy Channel original movie.
The candidate who predicted doomsday for L.A. is elected President for Life after a Constitutional amendment grants lifetime terms. Once again, none of the government figures have names, so I get to write 'The President' every time he's on screen like an asshole. He declares that all who do not conform to the new “Moral America” laws he sets will lose citizenship and get deported to Los Angeles Island, which is no longer recognized as part of the United States. These laws include the ban of smoking, alcohol, red meat, owning firearms, profanity, non Christian religions (ESPECIALLY atheism), and pre-marital sex (no word if anal counts tho). A containment wall is built around the perimeter of the island, and those who are sent to the island are exiled permanently. Sort of like a giant prison island where everyone inside is serving a life sentence and are free to act as they please with no police force involved. Sound familiar? Get used to it.
It’s 2013 and Snake Plissken has been captured in the exact same outfit from the last movie and taken to the L.A. deportation center. He’s built an even larger reputation since New York and as he’s being led inside he’s asked why he did what he did. What did he do? Doesn’t matter, just assume it was Really Cool, probably involving graffiti, a skateboard, and calling a cop "pig." There’s cameras everywhere and the world wants to know, “What do you have to say Plissken?”
|"Call me Snake"|
He’s taken to a room where three people are there waiting for him: Police Commander Malloy (Stacy Keach and his ponytail), his aide Brazen (Michelle Forbes), and The President. Snake knows what’s coming as much as we do and immediately asks what they want him to do and what he’ll get in return.
Instead of The Duke A number 1, we have Cuervo Jones, who’s basically Che Guevara. He leads the Shining Path Peruvian Revolutionary and has seduced the President’s daughter, Utopia (subtle). How, you may ask, does he do this in the far-flung future of the year of our Lord two thousand and thirteen? Online chat rooms? Over the phone? Fake screen names? I'm so glad you asked constant reader, because you see, poor little Utopia retreated into a holographic Internet system after the death of her sister and began living out her life there. Why face your fears in the real world when you can create your own reality you want around you? Cuervo found her on there and brainwashed her into supporting his movement. Once completely indoctrinated, he convinced her to steal her dad's remote that can be used to control a super weapon of high tech satellites capable of wiping out electronics with an EMP. Aren't you glad you asked?
The President had threatened to use this to system against America’s enemies and dominate the world, because of course he did. Utopia steals the device, hijacks Air Force Three (because it can’t be Air Force One, that’d be too much like the first movie), and escapes in a pod and lands on Los Angeles Island to be with Cuervo. I’m not going to say John Carpenter needed a name for his Che ripoff and then just named him after the tequila sitting on his desk while he wrote this, but I’m not going to say he didn’t.
Cuervo is threatening to take back America with his allied force of Latin American nations that are standing by for his orders. Cuervo knows the secret “world code” that can activate all satellites and knock out power for the entire planet. The code? 666. I shit you not. At least it's something inconspicuous that has no association with death and the end of man that could be easily guessed by anyone who gets their hand on it. Might as well make it the same combination as your luggage, dipshit.
|Like I said, he's basically Che|
So basically the President’s plane is hijacked, the President(’s daughter) uses an escape pod with something important in a briefcase, the pod crash lands in the isolated prison island, and Snake will be awarded a full pardon if he comes back with the briefcase. Oh, and he’s been secretly infected with a virus so he doesn’t have a choice and once he returns back with the briefcase he gets the antidote. That's why I'm so happy John Carpenter is taking on L.A. in this movie, really raking them over the coals for not having any original ideas.
Unlike in New York, Snake does agree to this little proposition. He leaps across the room at them...and goes straight through them. Because they’re holograms. Oh Johnny Carps, just when I think you're out of tricks you throw the whole darn deck out the window!
With a ticking clock and not a lot of options, Snake agrees to their deal. He’s suited up with guns, a fireproof leather outfit, the essential countdown clock, and, oh, a personal holographic projector that can only be used once. The rest of this movie for me is just a waiting game until I get to watch Snake Plissken make a Snake hologram.
|Oh FUCK yeah|
So does he fly in on some pussy ass glider plane again? Fuck no, this is the 90’s, bitch. We’ve got grunge and Goosebumps, take that pussy shit and Flock of Seagulls and fuck off. He uses a submarine and plows through sunken buildings until he comes flying out of the water and crash lands on a dock. Fuck yeah. I guess they edited out the part where he kickflips on his way out of the sub.
As soon as he gets out, the dock he landed on crumbles beneath him and the sub sinks into the ocean, and Poochie presumably drowns with it. The first person he meets is Peter Fonda as a fucking hippie surfer. I swear to God. He thanks Snake for not killing him and goes on his way. You wouldn’t introduce the star of Easy Rider and a counterculture icon as a surfer who literally says “far out” in the first act unless you had something ridiculous planned for the third act, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed.
|Somebody's been eating well since Easy Rider|
After meeting some of the locals and also shooting someone with his Big Fucking Gun to the soothing, sultry tones of 90’s butt rock, Cuervo’s parade rolls through the city streets. Snake seizes this opportunity by stealing a motorcycle and inciting a giant chase scene. He’s weaving in and out of motorcycles trying to catch Cuervo, and I swear to God in the middle of it there’s a guy on horseback with an uzi.
|It's so 90's I'm surprised he didn't stand on the front tire and do the Bartman|
Snake ends up surrounded by 4 of Cuervo’s men, and instead of being brutally shot to death, he proposes they draw. He’ll throw a can in the air, and nobody draws until it hits the ground. They oblige for some reason, and as soon as he throws it in the air he draws his guns and murders all four of them. That's our Snake! More of Cuervo’s men arrive but Indiana Plissken is long gone by then.
Earnest Borgnine is too busy being really old to reprise his role, so who would be your choice to be the seemingly friendly island native that drives Snake around and knows where to find the guy he’s looking for? Steve Buscemi? Good thinking, because this bug eyed weirdo is Map to the Stars Eddie. When last we saw Buscemi, he was Con Air's most notorious serial killer who had escaped the wreckage and was free to murder as he pleased. So we've gone from Hannibal Lecter to Earnest Borgnine. Oh what tangled webs we weave.
Eddie has a remote that looks the exact same as the one used to power the satellites, except this one is programmed with a narrated interactive tour of the Island. Isn't that awesome? No.
Snake doesn't think it's awesome either, because he just walks off into the woods and continues his search for Cuervo's compound. He comes across Some Woman (who began her breakout career as second fiddle to Paul Reubens in Big Top Pee Wee before he got caught jackin it in a theater) hiding in the bushes, who warns him not to make a sound. He makes a sound and the two of them are kidnapped by men wearing spooooooky black robes. They’re taken to the remains of Beverly Hills hospital, where they endure the least subtle social commentary possible. Even less subtle than lines like “freedom in America? That died a long time ago…”
You see, the building is home to “surgical failures,” or people who have had too much plastic surgery. Get it. The only way they survive is by having fresh body parts implanted onto them over and over again. Get it. In comes the Surgeon General of Beverly Hills. Get it. He’s had so much surgery he’s unrecognizable, and then he starts talking and you realize holy shit, that’s Bruce Campbell. This movie is about to pick up. And then Snake and Some Woman escape after Snake shoots a tranq dart into Bruce’s forehead and the scene is over after 2 minutes and Bruce Campbell is gone for the rest of the movie. Bruce probably wanted to do more but just couldn't find time in his schedule between a signing at a horror con and waiting for Raimi to make another movie.
|Even when unrecognizable his chin is still massive|
Luckily for Snake, this woman he found hiding in the bushes knows exactly where to find Cuervo, and tells him while fading in and out of her fake accent. She gives more biting social commentary by saying the prison is the only place that’s free, the other side is the real prison, maaaan. She says L.A. isn’t so bad once you get to know it, then immediately gets shot to death in a drive by. That’s not a joke I swear to God that happened.
He mourns her for about 3 seconds and runs off as more gunfire breaks out, and he’s picked up by Map of the Stars Eddie. Eddie offers to take him to Cuervo’s camp but whomp whomp, he’s actually a double agent, and drugs Snake and turns him over to Cuervo.
Snake awakens in captivity to some guy with glasses running down how the entire remote computer chip futuristic thing the President needs works. The device that Eddie had and the one the President wants look the same for a reason. These are massed produced, it's basically like an iPhone - everybody's got one. The difference is the programming. In the briefcase along with the device was a minidisc (because it's the future) that can be used on any remote, including Eddie's little virtual map, to activate a giant satellite weapons system. Each satellite is attached with an EMP, which shuts down every single power source in its blast radius. This MacGuffin Machine allows the user to aim precisely where exactly he wants the EMP to hit, from a single car, to an entire country, to the entire planet.
Cuervo is not happy about the President sending Snake to retrieve the disc, so he fires the EMP at Lynchburg, Virginia, the nation’s new capital and the President's home town. He makes his demands to be helicoptered out of L.A. or he’ll hit the entire United States. After his demonstration, Cuervo takes Snake to a run down arena.
Inside are some Thunderdome esque fights to the death, and you start to perk up in your seat like ok we’ve been following the first movie beat for beat, this is the part where he fucking murders some dude with a baseball bat. We see a guy get his head chopped off with giant gardening shears while a crowd of leatherclad prisoners cheers it on. You’re promised “one last great spectacle of death” as Snake is led into the cage and you’re like fuck yes, let’s do this. And then a basketball rolls to his feet. And you think, well, that’s a weird weapon but this whole movie has had weird twists on the first one, so let's do this shit.
There’s no fight to the death. He plays basketball. He has a 10 second shot clock and has to make 10 points, goal to goal, full court. Misses, he gets shot. Shot clock goes off, he gets shot.
And then we watch Kurt Russell play basketball in slow motion. This isn't the dark and brooding 80s. Maybe fights to the death were cool back in the Carter Administration, this is the Space Jam era. I guaran-FUCKING-tee you if the Iran-Contra Affair was the Iran-Monstar affair, that shit would've been done before the nightly news.
Surprise of all surprises, the movie doesn’t end with him missing a shot and getting gunned down in front of a bunch of Motley Crue roadies. He sinks every shot and the crowd chants his name. Cuervo is going to shoot him anyways, but an earthquake hits and Snake is able to escape into the sewers with the briefcase. Don’t worry about how he got the briefcase, you and I both know it doesn’t matter nor make any god damned sense.
Utopia follows him into the sewers and tells Snake she wants to go back home with him. Problem is, the President doesn’t want her back. She’s already dead in his eyes and he could give a shit if she makes it back as long as he gets his briefcase. Politicians, maaaaaaan. She pleads with him not to give her dad the disc, because he’s no better than Che Cuevera, he just wants to control everyone, maaaaan. But you see, when the aftershocks of the earthquake hit the police base, the President is hiding under a table. Get it. All the President wants is ultimate power over everyone and everything, but the second anything pushes back he hides like a bitch. Just like all those war-hungry presidents, but you don't see THEM putting on camo and fighting overseas, man.
Eddie follows the two of them into the sewer, but the sewer collapses around Snake as Eddie shoots him in the leg, causing him to drop the briefcase and for it to end up back in Cuervo’s hands. It's real fuckin stupid and doesn't make any sense, until you see what comes next and realizes your life was emptier without this.
Snake washes out of the sewers right in front of Peter Fonda, who is now in full scuba gear head to toe and holding a surfboard. A tsunami is seconds away from hitting, and there’s only one way to survive it. He hands Snake a surfboard and my butt cheeks clench in antici.................pation. Snake has been taken to the inner layers of Cuervo's compound, played his game and escaped with his life, and now he's running low on time and options. Not only does the enemy know he's there, he knows Snake is after him. Not only is Snake getting closer to death with every passing second, but Cuervo is holding America at gunpoint and is about to begin a full scale invasion with the killswitch in his hands. There is no other possible outcome, Raymundo and Tito are going to surf this fucking tsunami. As God is my witness, Kurt Russell and Peter Fonda will stand on these surfboards and let the Mega Shark vs Giant Octopus CGI waves take them to the Promised Land.
Snake spots Eddie driving on the road beside him because that’s how tsunamis work, and leaps off his surfboard onto the back of Eddie’s car. I'm typing every word of this with a shit eating grin. He makes his way to the front seat and demands Eddie tell him how to get to Hershe (pronounced like the chocolate), a character that has been alluded to a couple times as someone who really hates Cuervo. Eddie is a slimy piece of shit who will side with whoever has the highest odds of blowing his brains out at that particular moment, so he gives Snake directions to the Queen Mary cruise ship.
There he meets Hershe, played by blaxploitation legend Pam Grier with the deepest voice I've ever heard. Snake recognizes her, of course, because she used to be his partner but ran out on him at a previous job, of course. The difference is, he didn’t know her as Hershe. He knew her as Carjack Malone. A big black dude. Hersche is a transexual played by Foxy Brown. So her name is Hershe, like the chocolate candy. And it's a black transsexual. Her-she. Fuck this.
She agrees to put aside their differences and help Snake take down the boss. God dammit John Carpenter how lazy are you. Notice how that got summarized in one sentence? Notice how they establish a conflict and then settle it in two minutes because a similar thing happened last movie? You see it's the same thing, but it's different because she's got rad tits and gnarly armpit hair. No dick though, we get to watch Snake run his hands up her legs, because of course we do. Don't like it? Go back to the 80s, grandpa.
Time is short so they get there the fastest way they can: hang gliders. But not that bullshit from the last movie. This isn't 1981, ok, we're not flying in on toy planes while listening to Duran Duran and voting for Reagan. This is the 90's bitch. We've got the butt rockinist industrial music you can find as they swoop in on dope ass hang gliders. It's fucking tubular, so cram it up your ass you "greatest generation" piece of shit.
|WELCOME TO THE AGE OF EXTREME, OLD MAN|
Troops in Cuba begin heading for Florida, signaling the beginning of Cuervo’s invasion. A U.S. helicopter lands to pick up Cuervo as Snake, Eddie, Hershe, and her men come hang gliding into The Happy Kingdom by the Sea (because they can’t legally say Disneyland) where a big dumb gunfight happens. Snake beats Cuervo, gets the device, and escapes into the chopper, blah blah blah you know how this goes. Snake, Eddie, Hershe, Utopia, and a couple random Asian extras left over from Big Trouble in Little China escape into the bulletproof chopper.
|Seriously, weren't you in Die Hard?|
As they’re taking off, Cuervo aims a rocket launcher at them. Eddie shoots Cuervo, but he's able to fire the rocket before dying. Eddie bails out, leaving everyone else to get hit because fuck those Shoobies.
|I COULD KILL SOME CUERVO RIGHT NOW BRUH YOU FEEL ME SPRING BREAK FOREVA|
The explosion kills everyone except Snake and Utopia, who is somehow still a character in this movie. Snake flies the damaged chopper to Murica where he and Utopia bail before it crashes.
Stacy Keach's ponytail, lady cop, and the President appear with soldiers. Snake’s countdown hits zero as he demands the antidote, but he’s surprised to find he’s fine. In reality, it was just a fast acting, heavy dose of the flu. So they sent him into a prison with the fate of the world in his hands but made him sicker and weaker first. Speaking of Con Air, he literally had the whole world in his hands, but they crippled him. Of course, getting sick and getting shot in the leg didn't stop him from doing some MAJOR FUCKIN SHREDDING on a surfboard, but it's the thought that counts. This was originally going to be a part of the first movie (the fake disease, not tubular ripping hella waves, bruh) but it was fucking stupid and got cut. Too stupid for the original, but here it is. Kind of sums everything up, huh?
As Snake hands over the remote and the disc, Utopia is captured by the police. She had been hiding in the bushes, and instead of being happy to be reunited with his daughter, the President sends her to the electric chair. Literally.
The President takes the remote and prepares to give a speech. Once the cameras are rolling, he enters the code to fire the EMP on Cuba and render it virtually useless before they can hit Florida. He enters the code, and Eddie’s voice comes out of the remote, welcoming you to his interactive map of the stars. The President is not amused by this, and sentences Snake to be killed by firing squad on camera. Stacy Keach’s ponytail gives the order and the police open fire.
Suck dick idiots, it was a hologram. That thing that was mentioned once in the first ten minutes of the movie that was said can only be used once? He used it, and before they can find him he activates the World Code. Keach's ponytail begs him not to enter it. The entire planet will be sent back to the Dark Ages, 500 years of history and progress will be wiped out in the blink of an eye. He pleads with him, “For God’s sake, don’t do it Snake.” What does Snake have to say?
“The name’s Plissken"
|WOOGITY WOOGITY WOOGITY|
EMPs activate worldwide and shut down every single electronic device from cars to batteries on the planet. Utopia is saved. Get it.
Thanks a million, Snake. The entire god damned planet is back to banging rocks together to make tools and throwing wrenches at wild packs of dogs for food just so you could look into the camera and say a one liner as you light a cigarette and blow out the match. Get it, because he turned the lights off. Thanks a metric fuckton.
Upon first watching this movie, I was really put off by all the similarities to the first one. Like I said above, all I knew about this was Snake Plissken and that at some point he would be surfing. So when the movie first starts references events from the first one, such as bringing back the "Call me Snake" line, I thought it was cute. It was 15 years later after all, so it seemed like a nice little bit for fans of the original. Then the movie kept progressing and it kept hitting all the same beats, except way fucking dumber. And I got a little annoyed. I had gotten all excited to sit down and watch Snake's newest wacky adventure, and instead got the exact same movie except with the X-Games and conspicuous, ham fisted social and political commentary that would get an "F minus see me after class" in any film school. Imagine seeing Carpenter's other movies like They Live, Halloween, and The Thing before seeing this. Oh wait, I don't have to. It's the same movie, but really fucking stupid.
That's the thing, though. I like stupid. I've liked stupid for as long as I've been able to like things. I've got a room full of stupid and a brain full of stupid. So on my second watch, I liked this movie. Shit, I almost loved this movie. Going into it knowing exactly what I was in for, I had a big shit eating grin on my face for about 90% of it. The surfing scene might be the funniest thing I'll see all year, but I can't outright love this movie because as much as I love how dumb it is, I can't get over lines like
Snake Plissken: Got a smoke?
Malloy: The United States is a no-smoking nation. No smoking, no drinking, no drugs. No women - unless of course you're married. No guns, no foul language... no red meat.
Snake Plissken: [sarcastic] Land of the free.
I ended up doing the Evil Dead movies alongside this by complete chance and can't believe how similar they are. Both of their sequels (Evil Dead 2 and this) take the same premise of the first one and amp it up 100 times. One's action and one's horror, but each of them play up their genres tropes to such a level that it enters parody. Did I pick these two series side by side as a means of dissecting two entirely different films that would take their own concepts, repeat them, then blow them up to a satirical level? Nope. It was sheer dumb luck.
This movie spent over a decade stuck in ~development hell.~ Kurt Russell kept insisting that the film get made because Snake Plissken was his favorite character and he wanted to play him again. Even though I don't love this movie and probably won't watch it as often as New York, I love when things like that happen. When an actor loves a character so much that he gets a 50 million dollar film made just to play him again. Shame this movie only made about half of that in theaters, because we'll probably never get Escape from Earth.
Well, maybe the eventual reboot won't suck.