|Escape from L.A., 1996. Directed by John Carpenter.
Kurt Russell, Steve Buscemi, Stacy Keach, Peter Fonda, Valeria Golino, Pam
Fifteen years after the fact, well ensconsed in the era prophesied so badly in Escape from New York, we have this sequel in which director/co-producer/co-scripter John Carpenter and star/co-screenwriter/producer Kurt Russell and producer/co-screenwriter Debra Hill reuinte to do it all again. This is one of those sequels which knows that the audience goes to see sequels in the first place to see the same old movie all over again. In this respect, Escape from L.A. delivers the goods in spades because it is exactly the same movie as Escape from New York even discounting the transcontinental transplant and the niggling particulars of plot and flourishes.
Arch-criminal Snake Plissken (Russell) is sent into the island internment camp that is now Los Angeles (post Big One) to retreive a secret weapon that has through twisted and incredible plot logic wound up on the inside--they've even dispensed with the pretense that he's going in after the president. Once again, they've injected him with an incentive to get him moving (designer virus instead of micro-explosive) and give him a time limit. In fact, every single plot turn apes the original. But more than that, it has the same feel as the original: it looks and acts like a movie with too many ideas for its meagre budget, fifteen years of technological advances in digital filmmaking and an enormous increase in budget not withstanding. It should, however be noted that the flourishes are actually better flourishes than the flourishes in Escape from New York, possibly stemming from the fact that Carpenter and company know L.A. better than they know the big apple, which makes what satire there is a little more biting and it lets Carpenter unleash his anti-Republicanism with more venom than he has ever lavished on a movie.
Russell, fifteen years more experienced, is better as an action anti-hero this time out, too, and truly loves the role--this is the most fun he has had in a movie in forever. There is also an interesting twist at the end which, inventive though it is, is strangely ambiguous--it leaves the audience feeling hollow and elated at the same time (which may or may not be a pleasant sensation depending on one's mood at the time).
In sum Escape from L.A. is equal to its predecessor, maybe even a little better, but let's think about that for a minute and put it into context. Director John Carpenter's last decade or so has been a rocky ride of big budget failures and frustrating mediocrities (including no fewer than three outright disasters in They Live, Prince of Darkness, and Village of the Damned). What does equalling Escape from New York mean in the overall picture of his career, given the fact that Escape from New York is not the equal of Halloween or Assault on Precinct 13 or The Thing? Is this the first step on the comeback trail or is it a holding action designed to stop the bleeding? Escape from L.A. doesn't find the director wanting, really, but he has been given an opportunity to salvage himself and he fails to overreach it and truly dazzle the audience. The question of whether Carpenter is burned out is here unanswered--there are sparks, lots of them, but none the sparks seem capable of striking a flame. Wither goest you now John?