Monday, October 12, 2015
Escape from L.A.
Directed by John Carpenter and screenplay by Carpenter, Debra Hill, and Kurt Russell from characters by Carpenter and Nick Castle, Escape from L.A. is a sequel to the 1981 film Escape from New York in which Snake Plissken is asked by the President and the U.S. government to save the President’s daughter who had hijacked a plane to Los Angeles as she gives a weapon to a rebel leader. The film is another exploration into dystopian America where Los Angeles is separated by the U.S. due to an earthquake as Kurt Russell reprises his role as Snake Plissken. Also starring Steve Buscemi, Stacy Keach, Cliff Robertson, Georges Corraface, Michelle Forbes, Valeria Golino, Bruce Campbell, A.J. Langer, Pam Grier, and Peter Fonda. Escape from L.A. for all of its action and thrills is really just a lazy and uninspiring film from John Carpenter.
Set in 2013 just 13 years after an earthquake had destroyed much of Los Angeles and separated itself from the U.S., the film revolves around Snake Plissken being asked by the President (Cliff Robertson) to retrieve a black box carrying a weapon that can save the country from evil forces as the box had been taken by his daughter Utopia (A.J. Langer). Plissken reluctantly takes the mission due to a virus he is carrying as he has less than 10 hours to retrieve the black box as well as deal with a rebel leader who wants to take down the U.S. and its President. In some ways, it’s really the same narrative of the first film made 15 years earlier but with a different set of rules, villains, and people as the only thing that hasn’t changed is Snake Plissken himself. It’s just that the world Snake Plissken is in is a very weird one and affirmation that he really has no place in the future whether it’s in America or the rest of the world.
The film’s screenplay does play into a traditional structure where much of the first act is exposition in which plays into what happened to America since the events of the previous and what Plissken needs to do. The second act is about Plissken arriving in Los Angeles as he meets an assortment of crazed characters including a tour guide named Eddie (Steve Buscemi), a woman named Taslima (Valeria Golino) who was deported to L.A. because she was a Muslim, a transgender outlaw named Hershe (Pam Grier), and an aging surfer named Pipeline (Peter Fonda). Some of which are either affiliated with the terrorist leader Cuervo Jones (George Corraface) or against him. Yet, many of these characters really just caricatures where some just offer exposition or others are just there for laughs as it never really meshes or do anything to drive the story. Even as everyone knows that the President and his cronies are also villains because of what he wants to do and the bullshit morality that he stands for which doesn’t really make the story very engaging.
John Carpenter’s direction does have its moments in some of the action scenes and how he re-creates Los Angeles as paradise in Hell. Even as it does have some satire in the way the world is along with bits of commentary about a third-world revolution going up against the superpower that is America. Unfortunately, the script’s unwillingness to really do so much more really bogs the film down as Carpenter had to rely on humor to get some things going where it doesn’t really mesh with who Snake Plissken is. Even as there’s a lot of reliance on visual effects that don’t look great or finished as well as moments where it tries to be outrageous but ends up being very dumb. Carpenter’s approach to compositions are still potent in his approach to close-ups and medium shots but there’s scenes that don’t look good such as seeing Plissken surfing nearby or a scene where Plissken has to play basketball to survive. It’s not what he’s about as it doesn’t have the element of suspense nor any stakes that are bigger as it’s ending sort of mirrors the one in the previous film. Overall, Carpenter makes a very messy and dull film about a guy trying to retrieve a black box for some asshole dictator he doesn’t even like.
Cinematographer Gary B. Kibbe does nice work with the cinematography as much of the film was set at night where it features some unique lighting for some of the action scenes as well as play up to the look of Los Angeles. Editor Edward A. Warschilka does some fine work with the editing though it deviates from many of the conventional fast-paced cutting style that is derivative of most action films. Production designer Lawrence G. Paull, with set decorator Kathe Klopp and art director Bruce Crone, does superb work with the set design from the look of the city as well as some of the landmarks of the cities in their post-earthquake look. Costume designer Robin Michel Blush does excellent work with the costumes from the Che Guevara-inspired look of Cuervo Jones to look of the many characters that Plissken encounters in the film.
Special effects makeup designer Rick Baker does some brilliant work with the design of some of the freaks that appear in Los Angeles including those who took too much plastic surgery. Visual effects supervisors Michael Lessa and Kimberly Nelson LoCasio do terrible work with the visual effects where it looks like early 90s computer animation where things look wobbly and some of it looked unfinished as it is among one of the lowlights of the film. Sound editor John Dunn and sound designer John Pospisil do fantastic work with the sound to play up some of the sound effects and layers of sound in some of the action scenes. The film’s music by John Carpenter and Shirley Walker is alright for its mixture of electronics and rock with bits of blues to play into that sense of the old-school that Plissken is fond for while its soundtrack is a mixture of metal, alt-rock, and industrial from acts like Gravity Kills, Tool, White Zombie, Tori Amos, Sugar Ray, the Toadies, Ministry, Butthole Surfers, Stabbing Westward, Clutch, and the Deftones.
The casting by Carrie Frazier is amazing though many of the appearances of such noted cult actors like Pam Grier as an old friend of Plissken in a transgender fighter named Hershe, Bruce Campbell as a weird-looking plastic surgeon from Beverly Hills, Jeff Imada as a gang member, Robert Carradine as a skinhead, Paul Bartel as a congressman, and Leland Orser as an associate of Cuervo as they’re kind of given nothing to do as does Valeria Golino as a woman who helps Plissken to find locations in Los Angeles, Breckin Meyer as a young surfer, Michelle Forbes as an assistant chief to the police force, Stacy Keach as Commander Malloy, and Peter Fonda as the aging surfer Pipeline as they’re just used to appear and don’t do much. A.J. Langer is horrible as the President’s daughter Utopia as she doesn’t really do much for the story nor give any reason to save her as the President himself is indifferent about her. Georges Corraface is alright as Cuervo Jones as this rebel leader who wants to destroy the American dictatorship yet is also just as bad as the President.
Cliff Robertson is pretty good as the President as a man of morality who wants to clean up the country but is also quite ruthless in maintaining his rule as he is given a lifetime term. Steve Buscemi is fantastic as a tour guide named Eddie who is kind of a sleazy guy that is in it for himself and whoever that can give him money where he is the only guy that is able to bring some humor to the film. Finally, there’s Kurt Russell in a brilliant performance as Snake Plissken as this renegade soldier who is forced to take part in a mission to retrieve a weapon in a black box as he copes with illness and other things in a world he doesn’t relate to as Russell is the only thing in the film that works.
While it features a strong performance from Kurt Russell and some exciting action scenes, Escape from L.A. is just a very disappointing and lazy film from John Carpenter. It’s a film that tries to update its predecessor for the 90s but doesn’t do enough to stand out from the original while it is hampered by some bad humor and awful visual effects. In the end, Escape from L.A. is just a bad film from John Carpenter.
John Carpenter Films: Dark Star - Assault on Precinct 13 - Halloween - Someone’s Watching Me! - Elvis - The Fog - Escape from New York - The Thing - Christine - Starman - Big Trouble in Little China - Prince of Darkness - They Live - Memoirs of an Invisible Man - Body Bags - In the Mouth of Madness - Village of the Damned - Vampires - Ghosts of Mars - The Ward
The Auteurs #60: John Carpenter Pt. 1 - Pt. 2
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