by Brian McKay
I don’t think most people gave ESCAPE FROM L.A. enough credit when it first came out - including me. Maybe I was expecting too much from it at the time. I hoped that our beloved Snake Plissken would emerge as a full-fledged and franchise-ready blockbuster action hero. Instead, he merely grunted, grimaced, and growled his way through a glorified B-movie that was more of a retread than a true sequel. However, after seeing it again for a second time, those are precisely the reasons I enjoyed it so much more.“Snake is Back!” the film’s tag-line exuberantly declares – and while many elements of this film disappointed Escape from New York fans, surely the return of Kurt Russell as “Call me Snake” Plissken could not be one of them. Snake is definitely back – maybe a bit older, a bit more grizzled, and a bit long in the tooth. But he can still fit into his threads from the last movie (Russell indeed begins this film wearing the very same costume he wore in its predecessor), he can still kick ass, and he’s still Snake Fuckin’ Plissken – you dig?
"Every bit as Cheesy as I remember – but also a lot more Fun"
After his escape from the Manhattan Penal Colony in the last movie, Snake ends up in the clink again fifteen years later. A lot has happened in those fifteen years, including a massive 9.0 quake that caused the greater Los Angeles area to break from the coast of California and become a devastated island wasteland. As if that weren’t bad enough, a right wing extremist and fundamentalist has become President and decided to “take out the trash” in America by declaring that all “undesirables” be deported to . . . guess where? Among the new rules are: No smoking, drinking, swearing, eating red meat, or sex outside of approved marital relations. Hmmm . . . maybe this should have been called Escape from Salt Lake. (Utah residents wishing to now send hate mail may do so at firstname.lastname@example.org).
Well, the President’s spoiled teenage daughter gets the rebellious bug up her butt and decides to steal the targeting system to a high-tech satellite-based weapons system, and defect to LA, where she hooks up with the biggest gang leader, Cuervo Jones (George Corraface, sporting a Che Guevara motif’) .
Snake gets a case of deja-vu when he is offered a deal. Get into L.A., retrieve the targeting device, and get back out – all in under ten hours. As incentive, he is infected with a virus that will kill him if he doesn’t return to receive the antidote in time.
Sound familiar so far? It should. Despite a few new wrinkles (and a much cooler ending), this is basically a case of same plot, different city. Many scenes are practically identical, but whether you want to attribute it to fondness for the source material, or just plain laziness, either way – it works. You get to see Snake throw out the same kind of amusing one-liners, deal with the same basic situations, and run into the requisite oddball characters, including Steve Buscemi as “Map to the stars Eddie” (a sleazy reprisal of Ernest Borgnine’s “cabby” character), and best of all, Pam Grier as “Hershe”, a transsexual kingpin who Snake formerly had dealings with when Hershe was a man known as “Carjack” Malone (any relation to Karl, I wonder?)
So yes, it’s a rehash of the last movie. But so was Evil Dead 2, and look how good that turned out. Coincidentally, Bruce Campbell has a small (too small) cameo in the film as well, along with the likes of Peter Fonda and a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment featuring Isaac Hayes (who played the Duke in the last film). A rehash it may be, but goddamn, it’s a fun one. A bit laggy in places, perhaps, but during its “on” moments it is gleeful to behold. Like the first film, the effects are fairly cheesy but a bit more polished, and Snake gets to kill at least twice as many guys as last time, which doesn’t hurt. But the most enjoyable aspect of all, at least as a former Los Angelino, is seeing the various landmarks (or rather, their non-litigious doppelgangers), laid waste, including the Chinese Theater (now a bordello), the Beverly Hills Hotel, the Queen Mary, and best of all, a final bullet-filled showdown on Main Street of the “Happy Kingdom”
While the DVD digital transfer is pretty clean, the current version suffers from an abysmal dearth of special features, except for an amusing theatrical trailer. Come on, Kurt and John, not even a commentary? Throw us a bone, here! Since Russell and Carpenter have done commentary tracks on most of their other collaborations, I can only hope that this oversight will be addressed in a later edition.Maybe ESCAPE FROM L.A. wasn’t as awesome as everyone had hoped, but looking back, it was nowhere near as dismal as everyone made it out to be, either. So it didn’t catapult Snake Plissken into a Vin Dieselesque franchise. However, it did remain true to its roots as a highly campy yet highly entertaining popcorn flick, and for that it deserves some props. I would like to see one more installment, though – ESCAPE FROM S.F. There are definitely some asses in this town that could benefit from the heel of Snake’s boot.
link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=612&reviewer=258
originally posted: 04/13/03 14:23:33