Escape from L.A.

Reviewed by Dan Lybarger

July 29, 1996


Moviegoers owe an enormous debt to director John Carpenter. In this summer filled with homogenized action flicks, itís nice to know that there is at least one adventure movie that must be avoided.

Escape from L.A., the shameless retread of Carpenterís 1981 hit Escape from New York, demonstrates an appalling lack of imagination--even for a sequel. The plot is so close to the original that new script might as well be a mimeograph. This time around itís 2013, and Los Angeles has been devastated by the worst earthquake in its history. As a result, it is now a penal colony. By some odd coincidence, angry desperado Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell) must once again enter the walled-off city or face death. This time, however, he isnít trying to rescue the President (Cliff Robertson). Instead he must retrieve a device that can kill all electrical power from any spot on the globe.

The first film was no masterpiece, but Carpenter demonstrated enough inventiveness and technical virtuosity to keep things tense and fun. This time around, the recycled script (by Carpenter, Russell and producer Debra Hill) prevents the chills from ever starting. If you remember the first film, the plot twists here wonít surprise you.

To their credit, Carpenter and his collaborators have come up with some amusing peripheral gags. For instance, Robertsonís President is really a theocratic dictator who bears no small resemblance to Pat Robertson. Not only has he outlawed non-Christian religions, but he has also banned red meat and moved the capital to Lynchburg, VA! In fact, the movie would have been more fun if Carpenter had explored life in the new America and had spent less time plagiarizing himself.

Nonetheless, Escape from L.A. is a complete failure as an action flick. For one thing, Carpenter never gives his cast room to work. Peter Fonda, 70ís blaxploitation queen Pam Grier and Stacy Keach are saddled with skimpy parts that could just as easily have been played by robots. Russell is good, but itís more fun to watch him parody sullen machismo (as he did in Carpenterís Big Trouble in Little China) than it is to watch him practice it.

This film doesnít even meet its action quota. The stunts are clumsily staged. Furthermore, Escape from L.A. commits the cardinal sin of modern filmmakingóweak special effects. While the digital effects may be high tech, Iíve seen hunks of cheddar that were less cheesy. Most of the movie looks like a bad video game.

The only reason to sit through Escape from L.A. is to appreciate the occasionally campy delights it offers (like a poorly animated shark). Donít sentence yourself to this atrocity unless you enjoy mocking movies more than you enjoy watching them ( R ). Rating: 2.



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Ó 1997 Dan Lybarger



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