ESCAPE FROM L.A. is exactly what you think it’ll be: A major studio, bigger-budgeted redo/remake/reboot/re of ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK. It follows ENY almost beat for beat, from the arrival of criminal Snake Plisken to his mission involving the president to the forced limited-time deadline to the twisted sporting event to the minority villain with a race-based grudge who ends up dead. The bigger budget means CGI that hasn’t dated as charmingly as the model effects of the original.
Valeria Golino does double duty, playing both the Season Hubley and Adrienne Barbeau roles. She doesn’t last very long, and the timing of her departure has to be Carpenter winking at the audience. Or maybe it’s just really predictable screenwriting. Steve Buscemi has to stand in for both Ernest Borgnine AND Harry Dean Stanton, and he’s just not up to it, though his teeth are appropriately bad.
I didn’t care for this when I saw it in the theater. This time I appreciated that it was one of those ’70’s Marvel post-apocalyptic comic books on film. It’s colorful, it sprints along without lingering on anything that might add body to the slender story, and seems driven by what the movie makers think the audience wants to see. The goofiness level is much higher than ENY, reaching a feverish high when Snake gets where he needs to go by surfing on a timely arrival of a tidal wave.
There’s a tossed-off quality about the movie, like no one making it really cares about it, or the screenwriters think the audience is made up of dummies.
The scene where Snake is cornered by five men with guns who just let him trick them in a way no infant would fall for is an instance of the movie makers thinking the audience’ll buy it because they’re so enamored of the star. It got derisive snickers from the audience, as I recall. Not me, of course.
The scene where Snake is captured by the followers of an evil plastic surgeon isn’t even a joke, it’s a premise–Killer Plastic Surgeon! The scene ends so quickly I have to wonder if they realized there was just nothing to it and decided to just get out quickly. The scene has zero impact on the story and could have been cut without anything being lost. Bruce Campbell is okay but does nothing special. I guess this deserves a half-hearted clap for being critical of plastic surgery in a Hollywood movie. Clap.
The score is a problem. The late, great Shirley Walker wrote a fine score for the bad MEMOIRS OF AN INVISIBLE MAN, but working in collaboration with Carpenter results in a blaring mix of orchestra and drum kit that reminds me of the BATMAN TV scores. Which is fine if you’re into that.
The Is It Bad or Is It Just Being Comic Book-Like? stuff throughout interfered with my enjoyment. In the climax, a freakin’ ROCKET hits an escaping helicopter, and it instantly burns up the people in the back seat, leaving the two people in front untouched. This after the assault on Disneyland by hang glider. Pam Grier’s troops just spray bullets and stuff ‘splodes.
There is a reason I’ve thought about this movie repeatedly over the years.
In the last moments of the movie, Snake Plissken causes all machinery on the planet to shut down, bringing humanity back to the dark ages, or something. Putting aside how an EMP would actually work and the extent of the damage it would cause, this is a radical SF idea for a mainstream movie. As with the end of Carpenter’s THEY LIVE, it’s a refreshingly cynical finish. It’s too bad the rest of the movie is so disposable, because this is a serious concept that would be a nice ending for a serious flick. As it is, it’s a nice, gloomy ending that fits with the Marvel black-and-white-mag tone.