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 New York.”
The Movie: “Escape From New York”
Starring: Kurt Russell, Lee Van Cleef, Ernest Borgnine
Director: John Carpenter
Plot Summary: (From IMDB) In 1997, when the U.S. president crashes into Manhattan, now a giant maximum security prison, a convicted bank robber is sent in to rescue him..
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 85 percent
Froemming: Last year, the JOE-DOWN escaped from Los Angeles via Snake Plissken and survived to tell the tale. For this JOE-DOWN, I decided to go back to the original John Carpenter film, mostly because I had not seen it in about 20 years. How has it held up? We will get to that in a bit. But first, Brown, I know you love this movie and I know it is eating you up inside that we will be sort of ripping on a favorite of yours. Let’s hear your initial thoughts on this film that we sort of have already reviewed.
Brown: Why are we doing this? This movie, along with “Die Hard,” is perfect. There is nothing bad that I am going to say about this movie.
I honestly thought about not watching it for the JOE-DOWN in protest because I was not going to contribute to the desecration of this masterpiece.
Then, I remembered it’s “Escape From New York.” I’ll stop anything to watch “Escape From New York.” Honestly, I skipped out on brunch and birthday shopping with one of my nieces because I needed to watch this. Not for this review, but because John Carpenter and Kurt Russell commanded me to.
So go ahead, Froemming, start taking shots at this movie while I find a way to go up to Bemidji and punch you in the face for ever speaking ill of this film.
Froemming: It’s the JOE-DOWN, we can find stuff to mock in “The Godfather Part II.”
Brown: I’ll start right now: The first “Godfather,” much better.
Froemming: You always find a way to make an opinion wrong.
And while I love this film, there are some plot holes, such as making the most prosperous of the five boroughs a prison and not just blowing up every bridge that could be an escape.
Anyway, in 1988 the crime rate has jumped to a shocking 400 percent, probably because of Obama and whatnot. So, Manhattan has turned into a giant prison, where one enters and never leaves, like that crappy “Hotel California” song.
Cut to 1997, where Air Force One has been hijacked, curiously not by Gary Oldman this time around, but by the National Liberation Front. A domestic terrorist group that is brought up here and never mentioned again in this film.
Well, when the police try to save the president, played by Donald Pleasence who was Dr. Loomis in the original “Halloween,” they are confronted by a meth head with a severed finger warning them to not and try to rescue the commander in chief.
Yeah, I don’t buy a junkie preventing a rescue mission, dude would have been shot into hamburger once he showed off that finger. A finger, I suspect, that Walter Sobchak from “The Big Lebowski” would have no problem finding on the Black Market.
Brown: I recall thinking when the junkie (named Romero) came on screen that Flea hit some hard times in life.
Right away, this movie sets a panicked tone, with officers rushing from scene to scene, helicopters buzzing around like the beginning of Billy Joel’s “Goodnight Saigon” and scenery that looks one part “Spaceballs” and one part “Air Force One.”
And all the while, we see glimpses of a eye patch-clad badass, Snake Plissken. And I wrote in my notes at least three times: I wish I was (REDACTED) Snake Plissken.
Because heroin junkie Flea (or Romero, I guess) said if any choppers or anymore police show up in New York, the president is dead, police commissioner Bob Hauk (Van Cleef) goes not for an army, but a one-man army. And also, the coolest (REDACTED) in cinema history.
Froemming:The logic makes sense, sneak one guy in who is a trained soldier. Less noise. The flaw: Manhattan is (REDACTED) huge. Even with his little tracker, it would be like finding a needle in a haystack.
There is some back-and-forth with Snake. He doesn’t care about the damn president. But, he is offered his freedom if he does the mission. He reluctantly agrees.
Now, he has 22 hours to find the president, because he and his tape recorder handcuffed to his arm contains important information for some sort of world meeting with governments. With that time table, the fact Manhattan is (REDACTED) huge and his freedom is on the line, Snake is also injected with micro-explosives in his arteries that will blow up if he blows his deadline. It is a little overkill.
Brown: Gee Froemming, where have we heard this plot device before? Oh, from “Suicide Squad.” Here’s what I said about that movie: “Amanda Waller just got done watching “Escape From New York” and decided “Hey, I should create a team of five or six Snake Plisskens to help the world.” To the point that the way our squad of villains obey orders is by having small explosives planted in their necks to kill them in case they break the rules.”
So after his tense moment with Hauk and the doctor, Snake hops on his plane and lands atop the World Trade Center, which makes for a deep sigh considering that, you know, those buildings don’t exist anymore. And after seeing “Escape From LA” last year, it was stunning to see how much better the effects of a movie from 1981 compared to 1996.
Also, I’m going to gush over how much I love ‘80s technology in movies. Snake lands the plane using screens that look like what Luke Skywalker destroyed the Death Star with. Then when he gets on the ground, all Snake needs to find the president’s tracer is a blinking light with no context on a screen that determines direction, distance and what building it’s in.
Froemming: It is the old KISS approach: Keep it simple, stupid. And it works wonders because I really didn’t care if it didn’t make any damn sense. I was along for the ride.
Now, Snake is tracking the president via this doohickey (technical term) and he finds himself inside in a theater, where a vaudeville drag show is taking place, which was (REDACTED) awesome. Here we first meet Cabbie, played by (REDACTED) Ernest Borgnine! Like how we mentioned in “Escape From LA,” Snake is somehow known by just about everyone on planet Earth, making his incognito journey here a bit difficult.
Brown: It’s weird. Usually I want some exposition in movies so I know what the (REDACTED) is going on. However, even without knowing anything about Snake Plissken, we know how much of a badass he is because of three things: Eye patch, guns, hair. Also, everyone thinks he’s dead, so it adds this mystery. And he’s got the weird charisma of a Jake “The Snake” Roberts where he speaks quietly, but you listen because you want to hear every word he says (usually calling someone an a-hole).
Finally, that vaudeville show is hilarious. I wrote down some of the lyrics: Stab a priest/With a fork. … Rob a bank/Take a truck. You expect the entertainment to be blood sport like we see later in the wrestling ring, or like the LA Coliseum in “Escape From LA.” Nope, we need some line dancing and a song straight out of a Monty Python skit.
Did I mention how awesome this (REDACTED) movie is?
Froemming: Well, Snake finds the tracker on what looks like one of the hobos that made Charlie’s adventure under the boardwalk in “It’s Always Sunny” not so special.
Well, Snake is in a pickle now, but Cabbie pops in with his car and drops information on Snake like Chris Farley in “Wayne’s World.”
Brown: Snake’s not in a position to complain. He had to run from the CHUDs and the extras from Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” video. Cabbie was there to save him.
Froemming: That’s right, the weird people who come out of the sewers because they are hungry — for human flesh. Snake briefly meets a woman here, but she is taken fairly quickly.
I imagine this is probably a gang that even The Warriors go out of their way to avoid.
After popping in and out of windows and blowing away these CHUDs with his unlimited bullet supply in his gun, Cabbie rescues Snake and brings him to Brain, played by the always creepy Harry Dean Stanton.
Brown: Going back quickly to the emergence of the CHUDs, or the Crazies as they’re called here, this is another trope that “Escape From LA” used: If you’re a woman looking to escape with Snake, you’re going to die very, very soon. The woman here gets consumed by the Crazies, the one in “Escape From LA” gets shot. Hell, even Maggie, Brain’s main squeeze, gets killed later in this movie.
Why? Because this is a dude’s movie, I guess?
Now, Brain is here for one reason: He knows how to get to The Duke, who is the leader of the new New York (not to be confused with New New York from “Futurama”). But it turns out that Snake and Brain have some history as Brain left our hero high and dry during some excursion out in Kansas City.
So after some violent threats, Brain and Maggie reluctantly join Snake in his search for the president. And as they leave Brain’s place, we see The Duke pull up, played by Isaac (REDACTED) Hayes!
Froemming: I love how the Duke’s car has chandeliers on the hood. That…that just made me smile.
Now, Brain has figured out how to escape Manhattan via a map of where to avoid the landmines on the 69th Street Bridge, which as I mentioned early in this review is a stupid plot point. That bridge should have just been blown up to avoid any chance of these crazies to escape.
That map is what the Duke is looking for.
As the Duke is at Brain’s place, which to be honest, is kind of rude of Brain to invite someone over and not be there, Snake and the crew are venturing to the Duke’s compound to grab the president. And I love how Snake just plows this vehicle, which looks a lot like the Griswold family station wagon, through barricades and people. Also, his driving through the streets of Manhattan dodging maniacs running every which way is very similar to my experiences of driving through the hell that is downtown Minneapolis.
Brown: So, we arrive at a railyard where The Duke is keeping the president. Snake appears to rescue the man, but The Duke’s gang of baddies capture Snake before he can get back in the car. During the rescue, Snake also takes an arrow right above the knee.
And this brings me to one of my favorite parts about this movie: The amount of attention they pay to everything.
When Snake and co. steal the car, they make sure to throw out the knocked-out body. After Snake gets hit with the arrow, he’s limping heavily for the rest of the movie. It hampers him even in the most action-filled times. The president actually had his finger cut off and you see the thing missing the entire time.
I appreciate any time that my intelligence isn’t insulted when enjoying any form of visual media.
After knocking out Snake with a crowbar to the head, we are put in a gladiator situation where Snake has to fight one of the most legit frightening people that have ever been put on Earth: former pro wrestler Ox Baker. The guy’s finishing move was the heart punch! His actual catchphrase was “I like to hurt people!”
God, this movie is (REDACTED) rad.
Froemming: Well, Snake takes this guy out via baseball bat with rusty nails hammered through them, which was pretty wicked. Snake wins, and the people start chanting his name.
Just before this, we had a scene where the Duke is shooting at the president, who is chained to a wall. He shoots open the briefcase and like every meth head that has come before and after him, Romero grabs the thing that has fallen out and keeps it.
So, we know that his weirdo has the information the U.S. government needs.
Brown: Before we go on, I have something that’s on my mind: Why is the United States’ president British in this movie?
Froemming: Because of Barack HUSSEIN Obama.
Brown: No, this has legit bugged me for years. I imagine the world has been thrown into chaos due to crime since the ‘80s in this world, but how does a British man circumvent the Constitution and become the highest-ranking political official in the United States? Did this guy just have everyone in the world fawn over his policies and cockney accent enough to decide, “Ehh, we don’t need a natural-born citizen to run the country. Let’s pick Union Jack over there!” This is likely the reason why Alex Jones is worried the world is going to the globalists, because a Brit becomes the President of the United (REDACTED) States! This has annoyed me for years.
… But this movie, still SO good, though!
Froemming: We just elected a reality TV show host as commander in chief. This plot point no longer baffles me.
Anyway, Brain and Maggie trick Romero into seeing the president under the ruse that the president might have cyanide capsules on him.
They end up killing Romero, which to paraphrase comedian Todd Barry, is somehow easier than shooting fish in a barrell, it is more like being as easy as standing next to a barrell.
Brown: As the pack of baddies chase down Brain and the president, this gives Snake time to rush to the World Trade Center. He finds Brain, Maggie and the president up there, but a pack of thugs keep the three at bay while they chop the plane Snake flew into New York on off the building, leaving the group without an escape route. That is until they decide to cross the 69th Street Bridge thanks to Brain’s mine map. But as they reach the car, they are thwarted by The Duke once again.
Question: How did they get the engine out of Brain’s car in enough time to put a guy with a crossbow in there?
Wait, nevermind. I don’t question this movie. It’s A-Number 1.
Froemming: Good thing Cabbie shows up! And somehow has the all important tape, which Wikipedia tells me he traded Romero for in exchange for his hat, a conversation I do not remember at all in this film.
And the chase is on. With Brain’s map, the gang now can escape New York via this film’s giant plot hole: Bridges out of the prison exist for some reason.
Brown: You never know if a situation arises where you need to wheel something in for the police. SWAT, tanks, the works. Maybe they bus in new convicts? I don’t see an issue with it. It’s not like travel was advanced like it is today.
Froemming: No, it is stupid. They probably copter in new convicts. Giving them an escape route is just a recipe for disaster. We are told anyone who goes in doesn’t come out. They don’t feed any of these prisoners. There is no need for these bridges to exist.
Anyway, as the Duke is chasing the crew down, Brain is giving instruction as to where to avoid the landmines. But a wrong turn quickly causes them to hit one, splitting the cab perfectly in two halfs.
Brown: And kills Cabbie. Which leads me to this question: What’s Cabbie’s origin?
He says at one point in the movie that he’s been driving the cab for over 30 years. But it hasn’t been 30 years since New York became a prison? Who did he kill? What did he do? Did he get airlifted into New York via Airwolf? Did Jan-Michael Vincent get thrown in with him?
Froemming: He was probably just another stubborn New Yorker who refused to leave when his hometown became a giant prison. I can actually see that as his origin. “Nah, I’m good. I’ll just stay here and do my thing, fellas.”
Brown: So the cab is split, so while the group runs on foot, Brain disregards his own mine map and steps on one, killing him instantly. Which is something Maggie fails to understand for some reason. In her grief-stricken state, she gets a gun from Snake and tries to hold off The Duke, who is hot on their trail via pimped-out Cadillac. She doesn’t last long as The Duke runs head-first into her in the car.
Froemming: Maybe he was trying to recruit her into the Church of Scientology, and things just went south.
Brown: Down with Xenu. Please don’t sue us.
So, now it’s up to Snake and the president as they reach the prison wall.
Froemming: Well, they reach that wall with Duke on their trail, wanting to have them try out an e-meter so he can recruit them or something.
Well, the president is hoisted to safety by the guards at the wall, but as Snake tries to escape, the Duke starts blasting away, causing Snake to duck for cover.
Brown: This is one of my favorite freakouts in a movie. It’s been building the whole time. The president loses his finger, they emasculate him, tie him up and shoot bullets around him like they’re playing five-finger fillet. They steal his world-saving tape that talks about nuclear fusion (or something). To see that moment of catharsis for the president is this moment where you pause and think, “If Bill Clinton or Dubya had been kidnapped by Saddam Hussein, would he have done the same thing?”
But, the action still isn’t over! There’s still the matter of disarming the neck bombs, which they happen to do mere seconds before Snake’s face would be blown off his face.
Froemming: Snake lives! And he has a little chat with the president, who is now too busy to acknowledge the man who just saved him. He wants to get on TV and play the tape about nuclear fusion (or whatever).
Brown: It’s not so much he won’t acknowledge Snake. It’s that he just brushes off the idea that several people died to get him out of New York. Even if they were criminals, lives were lost, and the president couldn’t give a (REDACTED) about it.
Froemming: Murder, chaos, innocent lives lost, let’s leave that for the suits in Washington to worry about.
The president’s indifference to what had transpired this whole movie causes Snake to pull a fast one over the smug (REDACTED). As the president hits play on his sick-ass tape deck in front of the world, we hear the wild jazz music that played in Cabbie’s cab and not a boring speech on science.
Snake pulled the old switcharoo!
Brown: Because he’s Snake (REDACTED) Plissken. Ron Swanson wishes he was a quarter of the man Snake is. Don’t you ever disregard the common man, you pompous British political hack!
Now, let’s hop into Ernest Borgnine’s cab and get to recommendations.
WOULD YOU RECOMMEND?
Froemming: You know, even though it lacks a surfing scene with Peter Fonda that the sequel made up for, I would recommend this film.
Brown: Yes. This is up there with “Goodfellas” as one of my favorite movies.