Escape from LA (1996)


The tacky poster, confusing theatrical trailer and the countless negative reviews can’t quite prepare you for this tiresome mess of a film. Very Bloated, often boring and frankly pretty B*******, Escape from LA is a poor follow up to Escape from New York, and a middling  film in its own right.

Continuing his downward slide into Mediocrity Cult Director John Carpenter reunited with regular cohorts- Producer Debra Hill and star Kurt Russell 15 years after the previous instalment in the-not quite franchise. Perhaps recognising his fall in stature Carpenter makes the mistake of playing it safe, the film is more or less a re-tread of its predecessor, although it may please die hard fan’s, this instalment is often so poorly thought out that, that decision accounts for little, and the similarity only ends up being annoying.

Though he displays an experienced technical eye- the film is generally suitably shot and edited, and some of the casting is inspired, it’s hard to believe the man who directed The Thing is at the helm. None of the tension of his earlier works is present, visual wit is lacking, and the numerous action sequences are often mishandled, it’s not exactly awful direction, but a far cry from what he is capable of. The confused direction is only one of many flaws in the film.

Russell once against stars as One Eyed outlaw Snake Plissken incarcerated in a futuristic USA, and once again he is sent on a rescue mission. Although it follows the formula of its predecessor, and features the same creative team, this film doesn’t come close to the teams previous effort, the limited budget, the way it appears compared to competing films, and the nagging feeling that essentially the plot has been done before (but better) are all contributing factors to the film’s middling impact… to date Russell hasn’t made another film with Carpenter, and it’s not hard to see why. Admittedly there are certainly a few things about the film you can appreciate, even if they don’t lead to an enjoyable way to spend your Friday night.

The opening few minutes set the tone of the film well (though sadly not in a positive way) a repetitive musical score accompanies the rather bland title sequence before we cut to a talky opening montage (Oddly reminiscent of the Videogame Warzone 2100).

1998 In an increasingly violent, Divided USA a national Police Force is formed to protect the countries citizens, and a presidential candidate predicts a ‘millennium’ earthquake will strike Los Angelos in Divine retribution for the countries crimes (Ooh look a religious nutcase, haven’t seen that one before!)

Said earthquake happens in the year 2000 (it’s illustrated on screen by some tacky CGI, and to a greater extent the camera shaking….) and Los Angelos is cut off from mainland USA. The Newly elected president of the US orders the newly created island to serve as a penal colony for the US’s undesirables and criminals.

Fifteen years later in the year 2013 it still serves that function, and the US is still in quite a mess. Enter Snake Plissken.

We hear his journey on the radio, and see a news reporter list his crimes and reference the events of the previous film, before the slightly unsettling protagonist makes his entrance, it’s a clichéd, slow opening and demonstrates the unfortunate fact that a 15 year gap between films goes a long way to killing a series fan base. Some audience members may scratch their heads at such references, whilst others will have a feeling of Déjà vu. In any case Russell, whilst still likeable (as always), is noticeably older, and his gruff, grizzled antihero doesn’t quite work as well as it did in the 80’s, in contrast to the Loud-mouthed John McLane, and the zany Martin Riggs, his quiet character may be a little too wooden for some viewers.

Exchanging grimaces and whispered insult’s with military personal Plissken is escorted reluctantly to a meeting with the President.

The president’s daughter has gone AWOL in Los Angelos Island with a top secret Doomsday Device seeking to meet up with a crazed terrorist, and it’s up to Plissken to stop her. (‘I’ve got a great Idea Guys! Why don’t we get a well-known criminal who doesn’t trust us to do this dangerous extraction job he’ll probably run out on?’ ‘I like that idea! But he should only have a couple of hours and a tiny amount of information to go on…’).

Unswayed by an offer to pardon his crimes he is poisoned by the government, and unless he returns with the device within a few hours, they won’t administer the antidote. Given a small (Dated CGI) submersible he sets sail for Los Angelos, dodging underwater ruins, and a weak reference to Jaws in the process.

It’s a pretty predictable, though laden opening that follows the first film quite closely, fans of the genre, or Carpenters will recognise his approach to laying out a story and accept the slow pace, though other viewers may be annoyed its nearly a third of the way into the film before any action happens, and lose interest with the somewhat complicated storyline. Such viewers do have more action to look forward to, although it’s often poorly staged and little more entertaining.

The opening 20 minutes is not only slow paced, its often annoying, little effort is made to connect with the character’s – the government officials are flat, scenery chewing creations who soon get on nerves, and the opening isn’t exactly dramatic either (though that’s often the case with similar films). A few references to the wider situation in America will probably go over many viewers heads (Genetically engineered Viruses and inter American conflict for instance), but there interesting ideas all the same, even if most are barely sketched and badly worked into the script.

This sums up the film quite well, interesting ideas but confusingly, and all too often, badly put together.

Finally arriving on the island Plissken comes across the film’s first fight scene…one of the slowest car chases in recent cinema history. Crawling along at the speed of snails and exchanging gunfire less accurate than a typical edition of The Sun newspaper, the perpetrators quickly disappear, but not before Russell displays an expression of surprise and disappointment, that may not have been entirely scripted. It’s not only boring, its poorly staged, most of the films later action sequences are admittedly far more interesting (well there’s more going on at least), though a good proportion are just as badly put together.

Following the slow opening the film picks up pace a little (Its only 97 minutes long) and Plissken Soon makes contact with potential allies in the city (Amongst them Steve Buscemi and Stacy Keach), some of these are interesting characters, and most serve a purpose in the story. The cast is somewhat of a mixed bag; Buscemi and Cliff Robertson have fun in their underdeveloped roles, on the other hand many of the supporting cast are more stilted, left with less meaningful, generic roles, and the problematic script.

Always adequate, but rarely more the script packs a few good one liners, and a well-structured narrative, but is stuffed with cheesy dialogue, uninventive pauses, and more than a few plot holes.  The dialogue veers between good and bad with alarming regularity, and the already far-fetched plot finds room for DIY Body alteration, transsexual gunfighters, and a surf ride down Wilshire Boulevard, the film gets increasingly confused as it moves along, and its pace and credibility suffers as a result.

Eventually Plissken is drawn into a final showdown with the terrorist leaders, and an action packed, explosive battle unfolds. Dozens of extras are involved, dodging explosions and gunfire as the film reaches its climax. It’s a fitting end to the film, and is probably its highpoint, more coherent than much of the film (though by no means perfect), and actually quite entertaining it will certainly please action fans. Some impressive practical effects and well-rehearsed stunts are showcased in this scene …but it’s still too little too late.

For all its (many) flaws this is a film that sticks to its guns, it keeps the same tone throughout, and some may accept it as pure, silly entertainment. Many of the flaws listed above aren’t entirely fatal to the film, its budget and target audience should be taken into account by the viewer, and yes there are a few good points which elevate the film from total failure. But all the same, as a complete, intelligent film it doesn’t really work, the convoluted script, often stupid plot and general feeling of laziness that pervades in the film are all contributing factors to its final, middling impact. And as a worthy sequel it fails entirely.

4/10 Paul Ashwell

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About paulashwellreviews

A Blog dedicated to Film, TV and Book reviews of all ages and genres
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