×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

John Carpenter’s Escape from L.A.

A cartoonish, cheesy and surprisingly campy apocalyptic actioner, "John Carpenter's Escape From L.A." is spiked with a number of funny and anarchic ideas, but doesn't begin to pull them together into a coherent whole. Designed principally to return Kurt Russell's violence-prone Snake character to the screen after a 15-year layoff and to gain maximum mileage out of the public's delight in seeing the worst possible fate visited upon SoCal, this serving of sloppy seconds will score its biggest hit with teenage boys. Paramount should look to make a quick getaway with as much B.O. booty as possible from potent openings, as staying power looks meager.

With:
Snake Plissken ... Kurt Russell Malloy ... Stacy Keach Map to the Stars Eddie ... Steve Buscemi Taslima ... Valeria Golino Pipeline ... Peter Fonda Hershe ... Pam Grier Brazen ... Michelle Forbes Cuervo Jones ... George Corraface Surgeon General of Beverly Hills ... Bruce Campbell Utopia ... A.J. Langer Test Tube ... Leland Orser President ... Cliff Robertson

A cartoonish, cheesy and surprisingly campy apocalyptic actioner, “John Carpenter’s Escape From L.A.” is spiked with a number of funny and anarchic ideas, but doesn’t begin to pull them together into a coherent whole. Designed principally to return Kurt Russell’s violence-prone Snake character to the screen after a 15-year layoff and to gain maximum mileage out of the public’s delight in seeing the worst possible fate visited upon SoCal, this serving of sloppy seconds will score its biggest hit with teenage boys. Paramount should look to make a quick getaway with as much B.O. booty as possible from potent openings, as staying power looks meager.

When last seen, Snake was spiriting the U.S. prez out of a New York City that was an armed fortress controlled by convicts and loonies, circa 1998. Westward migration being what it is, by 2013 all the degenerates are in L.A., part of which has broken off from the mainland courtesy of a 9.8 earthquake in the year 2000.

In fact, five-minute expositional prologue is packed with enough juicy info and described incident that one wishes Carpenter had shot that and dispensed with the aftermath. In somewhat facetious fashion, the audience is informed that , in the wake of the quake, the nation’s undesirables have all been sequestered on L.A. Island as a means of purifying the new “moral” United States, which is lorded over by a Gestapo-like U.S. Police Force and ruled by right-wing religious hypocrite Cliff Robertson, who has declared himself President for Life.

But the prexy’s goody-goody daughter has suddenly seen through her old man, absconded with his top-secret “black box” and joined forces with gangster revolutionary Cuervo Jones (George Corraface), who is about to lead a massive uprising of the dispossessed and the merely unwashed against the fascistic Establishment. Former war hero and full-time bad boy Snake Plissken is pulled out of mothballs to retrieve the black box and, while he’s at it, eliminate the president’s turncoat sprig.

Pic’s first sort-of-groovy sequence has Snake being spirited in a mini-submarine from prison to the island. Along the way, he passes just above various familiar, but submerged, freeways and city landmarks, most notably Universal Studios, but the geography underwater makes no more sense than it eventually does above ground. Snake’s odyssey could have been much more amusing had it been specifically rooted on the map.

As it is, upon landing, Snake first meets an old surf bum (Peter Fonda), who lies in wait of the awesome wave he just knows will roll in when another big earthquake hits. When his forecast is fulfilled, Snake is there to ride it in with him, but, like the underwater journey, the trip is too short, and too tacky visually, to make the hoped-for major impact.

Stealing into Hollywood in the most realistic section of the film, Snake maneuvers through assorted skinheads, hookers and leather-clad scenesters in his effort to track down Cuervo, which he must do before some injected poison takes hold in eight hours. He comes close, but is instead captured and taken to the L.A. Coliseum to star in an updated Roman-style life-and-death contest.

This sequence sums up in a nutshell what’s wrong with the picture. To deliver its full conceptual potential, the stadium should have been jammed with 100,000 crazed former Raiders fans clamoring for Snake blood. Instead, what looks to be about 35 bikers hoping for a little beer money are spread thinly around part of the stands. Where is digital magic when we really need it? A great portion of the crowd at the “Ben-Hur” chariot race was an illusion, but no one noticed. Why such a poor turnout here?

After a tough victory in the arena and further skirmishes elsewhere, Snake gets his hands on both the president’s daughter and the black box; latter turns out to be a control mechanism capable of shutting down all electronic power on Earth. After a final confrontation between Snake and the duplicitous president, the fate of the world is left in Snake’s hands, and anarchic ending reps one of the film’s few genuine gratifications.

With eye patch firmly in place and tongue partly in cheek, Russell hoarse-whispers his way through the picture, knocking off a seemingly limitless supply of bad apples along the way. If not for him, this would be a B movie all the way. Effort appears as though it was done very much on the cheap, with the countless matte shots, mock-ups, models, haphazard special effects and dingy lighting schemes bringing to mind the look of late-’60s Euro co-productions. Visually, item is much closer to the 1981 “Escape From New York” than to effects-oriented pics being done today.

Nocturnal setting, uneven tone, abrasive score and only fitfully successful attempts at humor create a generally grim atmosphere, occasionally leavened by goofy ideas and flashes of explosive action. Aside from Russell, no one is onscreen for very long, although appearances of note are put in by Steve Buscemi as Cuervo’s fast-talking, two-faced agent and blaxploitation stalwart Pam Grier, her voice somehow altered to portray a renegade transsexual gang leader.

John Carpenter's Escape from L.A.

Production: A Paramount release presented in association with Rysher Entertainment of a Debra Hill production. Produced by Debra Hill, Kurt Russell. Directed by John Carpenter. Screenplay, Carpenter, Hill, Russell, based on characters created by Carpenter, Nick Castle.

Crew: Camera (Deluxe color; Panavision widescreen), Gary B. Kibbe; editor, Edward A. Warschilka; music, Shirley Walker, Carpenter; production design, Lawrence G. Paull; art direction, Bruce Crone; set design, Nathan Crowley, Patrick M. Sullivan Jr., Richard Mays, Darrell L. Wight, Christopher S. Nushawg; set decoration, Kathe Klopp; costume design, Robin Michel Bush; sound (Dolby), Thomas Causey; visual effects supervisors, Kimberly K. Nelson, Michael Lessa; visual effects, Buena Vista Visual Effects; special effects makeup, Rick Baker; action miniatures, Stirber Visual Network; stunt coordinator, Jeff Imada; assistant director, Christian P. Della Penna; casting, Carrie Frazier. Reviewed at Paramount Studios, L.A., Aug. 6, 1996. MPPA Rating: R. Running time: 101 MIN.

With: Snake Plissken ... Kurt Russell Malloy ... Stacy Keach Map to the Stars Eddie ... Steve Buscemi Taslima ... Valeria Golino Pipeline ... Peter Fonda Hershe ... Pam Grier Brazen ... Michelle Forbes Cuervo Jones ... George Corraface Surgeon General of Beverly Hills ... Bruce Campbell Utopia ... A.J. Langer Test Tube ... Leland Orser President ... Cliff RobertsonWith: Jeff Imada, Peter Jason, Caroleen Feeney, Paul Bartel, Robert Carradine.

More Film

  • 'Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse' Weaves Inclusive

    The Secret Power of 'Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse' Is Inclusion

    In a year that gave us films like “Black Panther” and “Crazy Rich Asians,” this weekend’s “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” delivers one more home run for underrepresented groups in media in 2018. An animated film that takes advantage of Sony’s piece of the Marvel pie, “Spider-Verse” not only puts a mixed-race, middle-class teenager in the [...]

  • Jeff BridgesJeff Bridges, who stars in

    Jeff Bridges to Receive Cecil B. DeMille Award at 2019 Golden Globes

    The Hollywood Foreign Press Association has announced that Jeff Bridges will receive the Cecil B. DeMille award at the 76th Golden Globes on Jan. 6, 2019. Bridges has starred in films like “The Big Lebowski,” “Crazy Heart,” “True Grit,” and “The Fabulous Baker Boys.” “The Hollywood Foreign Press Association is delighted to bestow the 2019 [...]

  • Charlotte Rampling Euphoria

    Berlin Film Festival: Charlotte Rampling to Receive Honorary Golden Bear

    Oscar-nominated actress Charlotte Rampling, whose career has spanned more than 100 film and television roles, will be honored with a special Golden Bear at the upcoming Berlin Film Festival. The fest will also pay homage to Rampling by screening a selection of her work, including Sidney Lumet’s “The Verdict” (1982), Francois Ozon’s “Swimming Pool” (2003) [...]

  • The Sisters Brothers

    France's Lumieres Awards Unveil Nominations

    Jacques Audiard’s “The Sisters Brothers” has been nominated for best film and director at the 24th Lumieres Awards, France’s equivalent of the Golden Globes. The Western starring Joaquin Phoenix, John C. Reilly and Jake Gyllenhaal world-premiered at Venice Film Festival, where it earned Audiard a best director award. Produced by Paris-based company Why Not, “The [...]

  • CAA to Represent Peter Chan's We

    CAA to Represent Peter Chan's We Pictures

    Creative Artists Agency (CAA) has signed with We Pictures, the production and distribution company founded by Hong Kong-born director and producer Peter Chan Ho-sun. It aims to boost the company’s footprint both in China and abroad. Within China, CAA China will help We Pictures to develop new business partnerships and find new sources of investment [...]

  • Elizabeth Karlsen, Stephen Woolley to Receive

    'Carol' Producers Elizabeth Karlsen, Stephen Woolley to Be Honored by BAFTA

    Elizabeth Karlsen and Stephen Woolley, the producers of such films as “Carol,” “Their Finest” and the recent “Colette” starring Keira Knightley, will receive the Outstanding British Contribution to Cinema Award at the BAFTA Film Awards. The prolific pair run Number 9 Films and have a long list of credits. They will pick up their accolade at [...]

  • BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY

    Korea Box Office: 'Rhapsody' Reclaims Top Spot, Beats ‘Spider-Verse’

    “Bohemian Rhapsody” reclaimed top place at the South Korean box office, overtaking “Default,” after spending two weekends in second place. The Fox release earned $4.38 million from 554,000 admissions for a total of $61.0 million from 7.94 million admissions. In its seventh weekend of release “Rhapsody” accounted for 27% of the weekend box office. CJ [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content