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LOS ANGELES--Reprising his role as Snake Plissken from the 1981 cult hit "Escape From New York," Kurt Russell returns to the screen for another admirable portrayal of the moody but principled warrior. But despite Russell's acting excellence, the film as a whole still leaves a little to be desired: you won't be hankering to "escape from the movie theater," but you won't come away with this film on your list of the 10 best summer flicks.
The premise behind the futuristic "Escape From L.A." is promising but proves unfulfilling. It is the early 21st century and Los Angeles has degenerated into a center of immorality and sin. The new president-for-life (Cliff Robertson) declares the United States a land of moral superiority--no smoking, no red meat, no freedom of religion. When a massive earthquake strikes southern California separating Los Angeles physically from the mainland, the president declares the new island outside America's borders and deports all immoral citizens of the U.S. to the City of Angels.
The president's daughter, Utopia, disagrees with her father's policies and rebels against him. After swiping the key to a weapon that would destroy all the world's power sources and send humankind back to the dark ages, she runs away to Los Angeles. The president recruits Snake to penetrate the seedy depths of the world's most lawless city to recover the device. To raise the stakes, the president's thugs inject Plissken with a virus that gives him only a few hours to live. The big question, of course, is whether Plissken can recapture the device and survive in time to escape from L.A.
The scenery and special effects of the ruins of Los Angeles are fabulous and make for some good one-liners. In one scene, Snake and Map To The Stars Eddie (Steve Buscemi) come upon the remains of Disney Land. Eddie points to the park and utters an incisive one-liner: "It's a shame. That thing in Europe really killed 'em."
Some of the plot lines are also creative. In Los Angeles, Snake is captured by the brutal South American revolutionary Cuervo Jones (George Corraface), who puts his prisoners to a deadly test. He brings them to the (ruins of the) Los Angeles Coliseum and has them play an unusual game of basketball, in which they 24 seconds to run the full length of the court and score a point. If they miss a shot before scoring six points, the thousands of cheering armed citizens fire away. If they fail to shoot before 24 seconds have expired, the thousands of cheering armed citizens fire away. No prisoners survive the game, until Snake sinks a cross-court shot for his sixth point to escape death.
The moral ambiguity of the movie is also a strength. The citizens of L.A. are violent and deadly--classic bad guys.
But the president is hardly a "good guy" himself. His rhetoric bears a striking resemblance to that of Patrick J. Buchanan, and his administration is right-wing and repressive--two big no-nos in Hollywood.
Viewers can turn for a beacon of moral light to Snake, but the protagonist is violent and moody. Still, viewers can look up to his moral integrity as he sticks to his principles.
"He's so true to himself he's incorruptible," Russell told reporters after a preview screening of the film in Los Angeles. "He doesn't care enough about you or me or anyone else to be corruptible; you can't offer him anything."
Producer Debra Hill also accurately described Snake as a "James Dean anti-hero rebel."
Russell's character clearly has appeal. But the rest of the film fails to match the quality of its star. Russell's supporting cast--from Map To The Stars Eddie to the sexually confused Hershe (Pam Grier)--are lame at best and annoying at worst. And the plot has so many strange and random twists that it becomes difficult to follow at times.
Still, it's not a bad movie overall, and if you have the chance to see it for a reasonable price, you should.
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