Escape From L.A.

Weekly Alibi

DIRECTED BY: John Carpenter

REVIEWED: 08-21-96

From Evil Dead to Evil Dead II. From El Mariachi to Desperado. Low budget filmmakers seem to possess this burning desire to top themselves. Now it's John Carpenter's turn to transform his 1981 cult hit Escape From New York into a big budget, big studio romp. The result is a kinetic, star-packed cinematic smorgasbord serving up equal measures of action and amusement.

It's been 16 years since Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell) rescued the American President from the island prison of New York City. Things have not gone well in the interim. Seems "The Big One" finally arrived and transformed Los Angeles into a crumbling aftershock-ridden island. As coincidence would have it, the massive earthquake that shook down L.A. was predicted by a Bible-thumping presidential candidate (Cliff Robertson). Needless to say, the candidate won by a landslide, and America has been converted into a nightmare of fundamentalism and repression. The Island of Los Angeles now serves as the world's largest prison camp, housing thousands of criminals, dissidents and illegal immigrants.

As our story begins, poor Snake Plissken has been arrested again and is sent to prison--with one caveat. If Snake can locate the President's rebellious daughter and recover a mysterious military device she has stolen, he'll receive a full pardon. As an extra incentive, Snake is injected with a designer virus that will kill him in 24 hours unless he completes his mission. Nothing like a little race against the clock to up the ante. So off to the island of L.A. goes Snake for your basic (anti-)hero's journey.

Yes, the story is essentially a revamp of the original, but don't think you'll be seeing some warmed-over clone of Escape From New York. Director/co-writer Carpenter completely unleashes his imagination with this one and lets it run around like a hyperactive 10-year-old. We're treated to such over-the-top action as Kurt Russell surfing a tsunami down Wilshire Boulevard and such gonzo sights as a climactic hang glider and machine gun fight in a Disneyland-type amusement park.

The satire runs heavy in this one, folks. Whereas 15 years ago, New York City served as the perfect template for our vision of a dystopian future, Los Angeles has now supplanted it as our idea of the Sodom and Gomorrah of tomorrow. Carpenter and company manage to poke fun at gangs, fundamentalism, plastic surgery, organized sports, theme parks and most of all, themselves. When Snake Plissken arrives in prison wearing the exact same urban camouflage and brown bomber jacket we saw him sport back in 1981, one prison official remarks that he "looks so retro."

Mix Carpenter's energetic direction and witty script, Kurt Russell's winking self-parody and a star-stuffed cameo cast (Stacy Keach, Steve Buscemi, Peter Fonda, Bruce Campbell, Pam Grier) and you've got a sure-fire hit. From Halloween to The Thing to Starman, John Carpenter has always been one of Hollywood's most consistent genre directors; it's about time he got back on the box office bandwagon. If only the summer's other action hits had half of this film's charm. It's the perfect summer "Escape."

--Devin D. O'Leary

Full Length Reviews
Escape From L.A.

Capsule Reviews
Escape From L.A.

Other Films by John Carpenter
In the Mouth of Madness
Prince of Darkness
The Thing
They Live
Village of the Damned

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