This is an installment for a series on this blog where Joe Brown, Sports Editor for the Red Wing Republican Eagle, and I have a back-and-forth review of a movie. We will take turns selecting a movie — any movie we want — and review it here. For this installment, I picked “Escape From L.A.”
The Movie: “Escape From L.A.”
Starring: Kurt Russell, Steve Buscemi, Stacy Keach
Director: John Carpenter
Plot Summary: (From IMDB) Snake Plissken is once again called in by the United States government to recover a potential doomsday device from Los Angeles, now an autonomous island where undesirables are deported.
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 53 percent
Froemming: The last time I picked a film for the JOE-DOWN, I somehow picked what I think both of us consider one of the worst movies ever made. It was a sequel to a much-beloved film that simply did not work.
This time, I picked another sequel to another much-beloved film, hoping at the very least I would be entertained. I picked “Escape From L.A.,” a film I saw when it came out, but I remembered almost nothing of. And before we get into this follow-up adventure of Snake Plissken on another coastal city to escape from, Brown what was your first impressions of this? Was it better than the unnecessary sequel to “SLC Punk?”
Brown: “Kingdom of the Crystal Skulls” was a better unnecessary sequel than “SLC Punk 2.”
When you picked this movie, I was very apprehensive. First, we just got burned by “SLC Punk 2.” Then, “Escape From New York” may be one of my favorite movies. It’s got that John Carpenter lunacy we’ve come to expect from movies like “Halloween,” and later movies like “The Thing” and (another JOE-DOWN selection) “Big Trouble in Little China.” And for the longest time, I had heard this movie was terrible and didn’t live up to the original.
I mean, how can you beat the original with Isaac Hayes as the main villain, a U.S. president that is British for some reason… there’s even a cameo from the most intimidating-looking pro wrestler ever: Ox Baker.
Whether “Escape From L.A.” can match the original or not, we’ll get to later. But I will say this: The John Carpenter lunacy is in full swing here, folks. Lead us off, Froemming.
Froemming: I will get this out of the way: This is essentially a remake of “Escape From New York” in a lot of ways. Pretty much the same plot and all. But, as we dig deeper, you’ll find that didn’t really bother me at all. This film is balls-out nuts, and for that reason alone makes for a fun watch.
OK, so Los Angeles in 1998 breaks off from the U.S. after an earthquake, and becomes a deportation hub for undesirables. The U.S. has turned into a dictatorship, for the most part, and freedom is non-existent. Cut to the wild and wooly future of 2013, and we find the government (once again) needs the help of Snake Plissken. Once again, they put him in a compromised position so he will do the dirty work they simply cannot do: Survive in L.A. long enough to get back a government weapon that has fallen into the hands of
Che Gu.. Cuervo Jones via the president’s daughter.
Snake Plissken: Survivor of New York, Cleveland and now L.A. This man deserves a medal of freedom for his troubles.
Brown: Before we delve into more plot, I’m gonna go ahead and put us into dangerous water. We try our best to not get political here on the JOE-DOWN. But between a nutjob telling the country that Los Angeles is sinful and will be punished by God, only to suffer a massive earthquake that breaks the city off from the mainland, right down to deporting criminals (the movie’s words) and building a wall outside the prison island to keep the undesirables from getting back into the U.S., this movie was WAY ahead of its time. What we have here, folks, is a Donald Trump presidency. Well, a Trump presidency mixed with the future from “Demolition Man” where smoking, drinking, drugs, red meat… really anything deemed unhealthy, is outlawed. Do you think they use the three seashells in L.A.?
Froemming: Well, it is in a sense a political movie. John Carpenter has never shied away from satirizing our political and social culture (ahem, “They Live”). Here he takes on the religious conservatism that really blew up in the 80s and 90s, as well as the government’s desire to expand its powers (the president amending the constitution to be president for life), turning it into an oppressive regime on freedoms. I think he pokes fun at both conservatism and liberalism in this film in different ways. But, I am not here to discuss politics, I am here to discuss John Carpenter saying “(REDACTED) it! I am going all-in on crazy with this film!”
And boy, does he.
Brown: Well, when you have a character as badass as Snake Plissken, you can get away with doing all sorts of bat-(REDACTED) crazy things. Just like in the original, Snake is just a ton of fun. The guy talks hard, walks hard and just has a charismatic presence about him. And when the president’s daughter goes all Patty Hearst on America and becomes a revolutionary, there’s only one man fit for the job. So, after a tense briefing and getting infected with the Plutoxin 7 virus that will kill him in 10 hours, Snake takes a solo submarine into L.A. to save the world and kill the girl (president’s orders, after all).
Well, kind of a submarine. We have to touch on how bad the effects in this movie are, starting with this point in the movie. “Cowboys Vs. Dinosaurs” is embarrassed for these effects.
Froemming: Yeah, the CGI was on par with the original “Doom” video game. The film looks better when it uses practical effects. When Snake takes his sub into the ocean, I think the 3D shark from “Back to the Future II” looked more authentic than the one in this film.
Also, I was troubled by Stacy Keach’s ponytail. Ponytails are for dirty hippies and men going through a midlife crisis, not for military officials.
So, Snake crashes his sub onto a dock, and naturally it sinks into the ocean. Because he didn’t follow the rules. But he is Snake, so he will figure a way off the island when the time comes.
Brown: We think he’s in trouble when he gets his bearings when Peter Fonda and his band of surfboard baddies have guns pointed at Snake. But Snake just tells them he’s passing through and Peter Fonda’s all starstruck by Snake. I kept thinking, “Wait, these guys have to have a bigger role later, right?” No. I think this random gang of surfers’ story arc was cut out of the movie. Fonda has one ridiculous reason to be there and we’ll touch on that later.
Froemming: I got real tired of everyone in this film being starstruck by Snake. Everyone is always asking him if he is really the Snake Plissken. I get he has become a sort of folk hero for the criminal underworld, but once or twice would have been enough for me.
Brown: I didn’t mind it all too much because people fawned all over Snake in the first movie. His legend is far reaching, man.
So Snake’s first call to action is to find one of the members of the original team who went after Utopia (the president has no last name in this movie. I’m tempted to call him Trump but I won’t) and the black box she stole. Turns out, baddies are using that guy’s corpse to throw knives at, so Snake books it in hopes of finding Cuervo Jones. Because Snake is the coolest guy ever, he pulls an Indiana Jones when someone threatens him with a knife, only to have Snake shoot the guy. Also, there’s the Bangkok rules scene a few minutets later…
I’ll fail my future son if I don’t name him Snake Plissken Brown.
Froemming: There are some great moments like that in this film. So over-the-top and so much fun. Kurt Russell truly shines his brightest when he is in this role.
But, this would not be a 90s film without Steve Buscemi (dude had to have been in 90 percent of the films made in that decade). He plays Eddie, a fast-talkin’ hustler who sells interactive maps of the stars.
Also, I found Buscemi’s soul patch as deeply disturbing as Keach’s ponytail.
Brown: Let’s just call Buscemi what he is in this movie: He’s Cabbie from the original. What, was Ernest Borgnine too busy for this movie? At one point, there is some remnants of a car that looks like Cabbie’s from the original. Nice callback.
So, Snake doesn’t buy one of Eddie’s maps to the stars and ventures off into Beverly Hills, which has been overrun by Jawas? As he’s hiding in a bush with a young woman named Taslima (who we later find out was sent to L.A. for the moral crime of… being Muslim in South Dakota. Make America Great Again, folks!), the hooded folks find the two and bring them into a lair filled with plastic surgery abominations. Turns out, it’s the lair of the Surgeon General of Beverly Hills, played by…
Froemming: Bruce (REDACTED) Campbell! I had forgotten he was in this movie, and when this plastic surgery disasters scene came along, it was a nice surprise. Grotesque, creepy and disturbing. Campbell looks so creepy with that fake plastic surgery on his face, though I have seen even more disturbing plastic surgery jobs on people on reality TV shows.
And he wants to cut out Snake’s only eye. Well, that doesn’t bode well for him.
Now I want to see an Ash from “Evil Dead” and Snake Plissken team-up film.
Brown: Funny you got that much out of Campbell’s performance because the dude was on screen for like three minutes before Snake hit him with a blowdart and escaped his lair with Taslima.
Froemming: Not to get off topic, but did you notice Charlie and Frank’s landlord from “It’s Always Sunny” in that scene? Because he is there.
Brown: I don’t even recall ever seeing Charlie and Frank’s landlord, but I’ll take your word for it.
So after the great escape, Taslima’s time in this life is short as she’s shot by a member of a Korean gang wearing a baseball cap. In my notes: Short Round got real violent over the years.
Trying to get to Cuervo Jones’ fortress, the Happy Kingdom, Snake hitches a ride with Map to the Stars Eddie, who turns out to be a double agent for Cuervo. So now, Snake is held captive and we find out out villain’s nefarious plan: He has a remote that can control satellites in space to shoot EMPs, which knock out all electronics. With the U.S. going to war with several third-world countries that are knocking at the U.S. border, the EMPs would hinder any weaponry the country would use to defend itself.
Froemming: Yup, and Cuervo uses video to communicate his demands, a lot like what we see modern terrorists use. This film felt eerily ahead of its time.
And what is our president’s first reaction to this? Well, just blow up L.A. Good thing Keach and his ponytail are more rational thinkers than the president.
But wait, because we are now entering the most messed up Olympic games ever!
Brown: Well, they are in the L.A. Coliseum and gangs from all over the land are there to see people battle to the death. The game Snake is forced to play: Shot Clock. He has to make five baskets, full court, with 10 seconds between shots. If he misses, he’s gunned down by a firing squad. Did I mention that the Plutoxin 7 virus gives the infected flu-like symptoms that get worse the longer it’s in the system?
But, because Snake is the human race’s alpha, he is the first person to ever win in Shot Clock, complete with a full-court heave to secure his win. With life or death hanging in the balance, Snake put on a basketball display that makes Michael Jordan’s “flu game” look like a game of H-O-R-S-E.
Froemming: Add “amazing basketball player” to Snake’s resume. Where he finds the time to shoot hoops is beyond me.
But Cuervo is not happy with Snake’s game, and demands that he be shot anyway. It is the ruthless gang leader version of sour grapes. Snake grabs the black box and tries to escape into the sewer, with Eddie on his tail. Eddie shoots Snake in the leg and gets the box back. Also, he thinks his shot killed Snake. Rookie mistake on such an assumption.
Now we enter what is somehow the best and worst moment of the film: Snake goes surfing with Peter Fonda.
Brown: Look, I have nothing creative to say about the surfing scene. In a movie filled with baffling shenanigans, this is the most baffling of all. Just… just show a clip of it.
The only thing I’ll say is for a guy who is an hour away from death from the Plutoxin 7 virus, Snake is pretty non-chalant.
Froemming: It felt like the Plutoxin 7 virus was forgotten about as they filmed the movie.
Brown: But it isn’t! Well, at least Kurt Russell remembered. He’s at least coughing more and more as the movie goes on and does have the appearance of a man fighting a cold.
Froemming: Maybe Russell really had a cold? I don’t know, you tell me. People are talking. I hear things.
Anyway, Snake surfs right into Eddie’s car and wants to find Hershe Las Palmas, played by Pam Grier, whom Snake worked with in Cleveland when she was known as Carjack Malone.
Brown: I want to see that movie: “Escape from Cleveland.” In no way could it be as degrading to that city as the fake Cleveland tourism videos.
After some bargaining, Snake, Eddie, Hershe and her crew decide they’re going to take hang gliders and dive bomb Cuervo at the Happy Kingdom, get the black box back and escape in a chopper. A couple things:
- Look, I know Disney seems like the type of people that would sue on a whim, but The Happy Kingdom By The Sea? It’s (REDACTED) Disneyland! Right down to a terrible-looking Magic Kingdom. I kind of wish there was a scene of Snake riding Space Mountain.
- Seeing the poorly green-screened hang gliding scenes, all I could think of is the scenes in “Flash Gordon” where the birdmen are attacking Ajax. The hang gliders would have been way cooler with a soundtrack by Queen.
Froemming: I just want to add that this film has an excellent soundtrack. I think I still own it. It has Tool, Butthole Surfers, Ministry and White Zombie. Soundtracks in the 90s were pretty great.
Anyway, so they glide into The Happy Kingdom By The Sea, and Carpenter hits his crescendo of insanity here. The helicopter arrives, Cuervo Jones bites Snake’s leg wound, there is a bazooka, it is just madness.
Brown: So, Hershe died in the bazooka explosion, right? It would make perfect sense since part of the helicopter is on fire as they’re flying away, but I don’t recall the movie addressing this.
So, Snake and Utopia make it out of L.A. alive, but before being confronted by the president’s men, Snake sneaks the remote into Utopia’s pocket. They’ve both captured, the henchmen find the remote on Utopia and she’s sent off to get the electric chair per her father’s orders. Don’t disobey your parents, kids.
Froemming: And Snake was tricked by the government. The virus was nothing. Just a drug that gave him hard-hitting flu-like symptoms. Come on, Snake.
But, Snake has a trick up his sleeve. See, he didn’t give Utopia the actual black box — he still has it. And, as the president and everyone is getting ready for world domination, Snake snuck off but placed a hologram device nearby, so it seemed like he was still around.
Brown: The remote that the president does have, it’s Eddie’s map to the stars recording, complete with Randy’ Newman’s “I Love L.A.” playing behind it, because of course.
And I do love the ol’ switcheroo pulled on the president. Yeah, Snake did the same thing in the first movie, and I would hope the president would have learned something from the New York incident 16 years prior. Regardless, it was another callback I enjoyed.
Froemming: And with the device, Snake shuts down the world. Like the badass he is. Everything has to start all over again now.
I say we get on our boards and surf on over to recommendations.
WOULD YOU RECOMMEND?
Froemming: Oh, absolutely. Of all the films we have watched for this blog so far, this was by far the most fun one for me to have sat through. It is so ridiculous and over-the-top, the plot is pretty dumb, but man, it just works.
Brown: Look, it doesn’t matter how stupid a plot is, or if there’s a baffling surfing scene in the middle of Los Angeles. Snake Plissken is an amazing character that absolutely carries this film through its idiocy. It’s a perfect popcorn movie, so give it a watch.