Press > Escape From L.A. > Reviews
Austin Chronicle (Aug 09/1996/US) By Marc
It's been 15 years since Carpenter's
futuristic cowboy-noir archetype Snake Plissken (Russell) unpenned the President
from the New York City Maximum Security Prison, but then as Snake himself liked
to note, "The more things change, the more they stay the same." Of course, there
have been a few minor revisions to the United States since then: The "Big One"
finally hit California, decimating Los Angeles and leaving the city and its
environs less than landlocked, Donald Pleasance's position as President has been
filled by the bible-thumping histrionics of an apparently de-lobed Cliff
Robertson, and the resultant political climate has left the country a theocratic
police state. Citizens convicted of moral crimes (pre-marital sex, smoking,
eating red meat, voting Democratic, etc.) are packed off to the island of Los
Angeles where they are left to fend for themselves against the roving gangs and
genuine psychotics that litter the island like so much post-quake detritus. On
top of all this, the President's daughter, Utopia, has turned seditious,
absconding with a "black box" weapons system and hijacking Air Force One to L.A.
where she's joined forces with rebel leader Cuervo Jones (Corraface). Tough
break. Enter Snake Plissken, newly captured by the United States Police Force.
Given a choice between death in 10 hours via a particularly virulent form of
neurotoxin, or going along with the President's plan to recapture the stolen
weapon and kill Utopia, the ever-perspicacious Plissken opts for the latter and
Escape From L.A. is off like a shot. For those who have seen Carpenter's
original film, nothing much has really changed - different coast, different
MacGuffin, but still an almost identical story line. Once in Los Angeles, Snake
makes his way through the various ruined tourist attractions toward his
rendezvous with Utopia and Cuervo. Along the way, he meets up with a number of
the local flora and fauna, among them Steve Buscemi as the conniving "Map to the
Stars" Eddie, rival ganglord Hershe (Grier), and the (literally) twisted Surgeon
General of Beverly Hills (Sam Raimi regular Campbell). Still, familiarity
doesn't necessarily breed contempt, and fans of the New York leg of the Snake
saga will slip back into the desperado's world with a comfortable grin.
Carpenter keeps the pace moving at roughly the speed of sound, and his dark wry
wit is evident throughout. Above it all, though, is Russell's inimitably sexy
Snake, so unchanged between films it seems as though it's only been a long
Labor-Day weekend since the A-Number-One Duke of New York got his. To be
brutally honest, the City of Angels doesn't completely pack the gritty punch
that the Big Apple did, but then Green Day aren't the Ramones, either. Suffice
to say, Plissken's jaunt westward is true to Carpenter's (and producer/co-writer
Debra Hill's) original spirit. Loud, rollicking, alternately ultra-violent and
hilarious, Escape From L.A. is Snake redux, and what more do you need,
Chicago Sun Times (Aug 09/1996/US) By Roger
John Carpenter's Escape From L.A.
is a go-for-broke action extravaganza that satirizes the genre at the same time
it's exploiting it. It's a dark vision of a post-apocalyptic Los Angeles -
leveled by a massive earthquake, cut off from the mainland by a flooded San
Fernando Valley, and converted into a prison camp for the nation's undesirables.
Against this backdrop Carpenter launches a special-effects fantasy that reaches
heights so absurd that there's a giddy delight in the outrage. He generates
heedlessness and joy in scenes such as the one where the hero surfs on a tsunami
wave down Wilshire Boulevard and leaps onto the back of a speeding convertible.
It's as if he gave himself license to dream up anything - to play without a net.
This is the kind of movie Independence Day could have been if it hadn't
played it safe.
The production reunites Carpenter with actor Kurt Russell and producer Debra
Hill, who also made his Escape From New York (1981). They wrote the
script together (reportedly starting right after the 1994 earthquake), and it
combines adventure elements with a bizarre gallery of characters and potshots at
satirical targets such as plastic surgery, theme parks, agents and the imperial
As the movie opens in the year 2013, "Los Angeles Island" is no longer part of
the United States, but a one-way destination for "immorals and undesirables,"
who are offered an option at the deportation office: They can choose instant
electrocution instead. The island is controlled by Cuervo Jones (George
Corraface), a Latino revolutionary who has a big disco ball mounted on the trunk
of his convertible. The United States is ruled by a president for life (Cliff
Robertson), who has moved the capital to his hometown of Lynchburg, Va. Now his
rebellious daughter Utopia (A.J. Langer) has hijacked Air Force Three and fled
to Los Angeles with the precious black box that contains the codes controlling
the globe's energy-transmission satellites.
The president and his chief henchman (Stacy Keach) need to get that black box
back. So they track down outlaw Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell), who saved an
earlier president from the prison city of New York. His assignment: Go in, get
the box, kill the girl and return within 10 hours, before he dies of a virus
that they've helpfully infected him with, as an added inspiration.
Movies like this depend on special effects, costumes and set design to create
their worlds out of scratch, and Escape From L.A. is wall-to-wall with
the landmarks of a post-earthquake L.A. We see the Chinese theater, the
Hollywood Bowl and a beached ocean liner, and the showdown takes place in an
amusement park intended, I think, to suggest Disneyland's Main Street USA. Snake
finds his way through the deadly wilderness with a series of guides, including
Pipeline (Peter Fonda), a has-been surfer; Taslima (Valeria Golino), a beautiful
but doomed street person; Map-to-the-Stars Eddie (Steve Buscemi), who is the
"guy to see" about anything, and the exotic Hershe (Pam Grier), a transsexual
who once befriended Snake back in Cleveland, where he/she was known as Carjack.
Meanwhile, the clock is ticking, and Snake has been supplied with that
indispensable device for all action thrillers, a digital readout that tells him
how much time he has left to live. At the end, when Snake has only 20 minutes to
find Cuervo Jones, grab the black box and seize the daughter, Hershe suggests
they get to Pasadena in a hurry by using hang-gliders. Whose heart is so stony
it can resist the sight of Kurt Russell and Pam Grier swooping down from the
sky, automatic weapons blazing, in an attack on Disneyland? Who, for that
matter, can resist some of the other stops along the way, including Snake's
encounter with a colony of "surgical failures," who have had one plastic surgery
too many, and can survive only by obtaining a steady supply of fresh body parts?
Or by the sight of San Fernando Valley used-car signs peeking above the waves?
Or by a chase scene which involves motorcycles, cars, trucks, horses,
machine-guns and boleros? Escape From L.A. took some courage for
Carpenter, Russell and Hill to make; they had to hope that moviegoers would
accept a special effects picture with a satiric sense of humor. Yes, there are
laughs in Independence Day, but they're fairly obvious and don't sting.
Escape From L.A. has fun with the whole concept of pictures like itself.
It goes deliberately and cheerfully over the top, anchored by Russell's
monosyllabic performance, which makes Clint Eastwood sound like Gabby Hayes.
Futuristic Los Angeles fantasies have uneven histories at the box office;
neither Blade Runner nor Strange Days did all that well in their
initial theatrical releases. But Escape From L.A. has such manic energy,
such a weird, cockeyed vision, that it may work on some moviegoers as satire and
on others as the real thing. That could lead to some interesting audience
reactions. John Carpenter as a filmmaker has been all over the map, from the
superb (Halloween) to the weirdly offbeat (Christine, Starman)
to the dreary (Village of the Damned). This time he simply tears the map
up; the implications of his final scene are breathtaking. Good for him.
Deseret News (Aug 09/1996/US) By Chris
The anti-hero is back.
Forget the sensitive macho men of the '90s, a la Arnold Schwarzenegger in
Eraser, who tells Vanessa Williams that it's what's in here (pointing to his
chest) that counts.
Kurt Russell's Snake Plisskin just wants an Uzi and some smokes. And if a bad
guy gets in his way, he gets popped. No apologies.
John Carpenter's Escape From L.A. seems purposely designed as a
retro-hero piece, a throwback to the era of Dirty Harry - or, more specifically,
that other Clint Eastwood series, the Man With No Name in A Fistful of
Dollars and its sequels.
Plisskin may wear an eye-patch, have a snake-tattoo on his stomach and swagger
around while garbed in leather, but there's no escaping his Eastwood roots when
he speaks in that gravelly growl or postures himself to face-off a half-dozen
gunmen or mutters a dark quip after blowing them all away.
Escape From L.A. is a sequel to the 1981 Carpenter-Russell collaboration,
Escape From New York. Or, maybe it's a remake, since the story is a
carbon copy, despite the coastal switch.
This time, it's 2013 and an earthquake has dislodged Los Angeles from the rest
of the country, making it a prison-island (for "prostitutes, atheists and
Meanwhile, mainland America, under the right-wing religious-fanatic rule of a
new president (Cliff Robertson), has become ridiculously strict. And if you
break the rules - no smoking, no cussing, no sex outside of marriage, no red
meat, etc. - you are banished to Los Angeles.
The plot revolves around a stolen disc, which is, of course, vital to national -
and international - security. It's in the possession of a terrorist in Los
Angeles, Cuervo Jones (George Corraface, made up to look like Che Guevara), who
got it from the president's rebellious daughter Utopia (A.J. Langer). (She
decries her father's rule as a "corrupt theocracy.")
Plisskin is brought in by the country's chief cop (Stacy Keach) to retrieve the
disc (the president's daughter is expendable), and a suspenseful deadline is
provided by a designer virus that will kill him if he doesn't return within nine
But getting there is all the fun, as Carpenter takes advantage of a bigger
budget this time around, which allows for some enjoyably ridiculous effects -
ranging from the devastation of Los Angeles to the re-creation of familiar (now
bombed-out) L.A. landmarks to a pair of surfers (Russell and Peter Fonda) riding
a tidal wave along-side the freeway.
Fonda's character, the ultimate burned-out surfer, is a riot, as are Bruce
Campbell (under heavy make-up) as the "surgeon general" (who performs butchery
in the name of plastic surgery), Pam Grier as a sex-changed crime kingpin,
Valeria Golino as a damsel-in-distress (in an Elvira getup) and especially Steve
Buscemi as a wacked-out, fast-talking agent to local mobsters.
The comedy is what makes Escape From L.A. work as well as it does. Sure,
it's loony and crazed, and, predictably, religion is one of the more frequently
skewered targets here, but the satirical punch, the wacked-out characters and
the crazy look of the film, along with all the assured performances, make this
Carpenter's best work in years.
Los Angeles Times (Aug 09/1996/US) By Kevin
With much humor and high adventure, John
Carpenter's Escape From L.A. brilliantly imagines a Dante-esque vision of
the City of Angels 17 years from now as a hell on Earth, all but destroyed - and
made an island - by a 9.6 earthquake in 1998.
Amid endless vistas of ruins - think Berlin at the end of World War II - the
Chinese Theater, the Capitol Records building, a wing of the Beverly Hills Hotel
and other damaged landmarks still stand to let us know where we are. Inspired,
meticulously detailed production design in turn serves as a background for a
provocative high-octane action thriller that reunites Carpenter with producer
Debra Hill and Kurt Russell, who jointly wrote this spectacular, superior sequel
to their rousing 1981 Escape From New York, which, by the way, was set in
As an island, L.A. has become the ideal dumping ground not only for criminals
but anyone deemed not conforming to the rigid dictates of the fascist regime of
the U.S. President for Life (Cliff Robertson), a leader of the extreme religious
right voted into power when he predicted that an Armageddon would in fact
destroy our Sodom and Gomorrah by the sea.
But now Robertson's unhappy daughter Utopia (A.J. Langer) has stolen her
father's Black Box with its mysterious power to destroy the universe and has
linked up with Cuervo Jones (George Corraface), a Che Guevara look-alike
described as a member of Peru's Shining Path who is now the much-feared
undisputed ruler of what's left of L.A. What to do but maneuver that legendary
one-eyed, leather-clad gunfighter Snake Plissken (Russell) into retrieving that
box from the ferociously dangerous urban jungle L.A. has become. After all, it
was Snake who 15 years earlier had managed to retrieve our kidnapped president
from a Manhattan that had been turned into a fortress-prison for society's worst
At the top of his game, Carpenter and his cohorts boldly tap into the twin
strains of paranoia gripping the present-day American society, suggesting that
we face one or the other of two of our worst nightmares coming true. They
suggest that liberals fear a fascistic Moral Majority-style takeover - it's not
for nothing that Robertson's president has moved the government to Lynchburg,
Va. - whereas conservatives fear a Latino invasion from the South of the Border.
Snake, therefore, becomes the man in the middle with whom most of us identify.
Carpenter sucks us into the tension created by these opposing forces so
gradually we're not aware of it because he's created so many occasions for
laughter. He pokes fun at mystifyingly complex future technology and disarmingly
pokes fun at the idea that he's brought back Snake, that parody of swaggering
macho, in the first place in what is so baldly a reworking of the earlier
In 2013 L.A., Snake, who has arrived via mini-sub and ordered to "put ashore at
Cahuenga Pass," encounters numerous colorful characters. None is funnier than
Peter Fonda as a hippie surfer waiting for that aftershock-driven Really Big
Wave; none more colorful than a perfectly cast Steve Buscemi as Map to the Stars
Eddie, the eternal conniver, the man to see for anything and everything, who
switches loyalties between Snake and the ferocious Cuervo with the speed of
Vaguely identified in the first film as a war hero turned robber for reasons
unclear, Snake gets a key assist from an old pal, then called Carjack but now
the just-as-tough yet glamorous and sexy transsexual Hershe (pronounced
Hershey), played by Pam Grier. He also gets help from Valeria Golino's Taslima,
who explains that her only crime is that she was a Muslim in South Dakota.
Sending off Snake on his journey is Stacy Keach's smart, ruthless military aide
Golino's remark is but one of many that allow us to perceive, allegorically, in
the L.A. of the future, the city of the present, filled with "people without
hope, without a country." Nearing the end of his odyssey Snake has good reason
to observe that "the more things change the more they remain the same."
Carpenter, cinematographer Gary B. Kibbe, production designer Lawrence G. Paull
and the usual huge roster of special-effects experts have done a superlative job
of making a scary future come alive. Snake's mission takes place at night, at
once more economical than shooting in daylight and more appropriate to the
film's dark vision of the future. Much light comes from fires set in oil drums,
which is what's happening every night in downtown's skid row area, and Paull
carefully interweaves actual locations with sets, including a standing
small-town set at Universal, dressed as a ruined theme park - and allowing a
funny dig at such Disney operations. Carpenter himself composed, with Shirley
Walker, the film's tear-it-up score.
Buscemi, Fonda, Robertson, Grier and many others get to make vivid impressions,
but of course it's Russell who must carry this swiftly paced picture. As rugged
as ever and attractively weathered, he does so with ease. As Snake he resists
the pitfall of self-parody, bringing a bemused seen-it-all weariness to a
barrage of nonstop action. Less surly than he was 15 years ago, he leaves us
feeling that we wouldn't mind seeing him yet again.
New York Times (Aug 09/1996/US) By Stephen
If the government deported all its
"immoral" citizens to Los Angeles Island after a millennial earthquake severed
the city from the mainland, who would be the person you might be most likely to
meet there, wearing a wet suit, clutching a surfboard and waiting to ride the
Why, Peter Fonda of course!
And what would the star of psychedelic adventure movies like The Trip and
Easy Rider exclaim if there were a sudden downpour? "Acid rain!"
John Carpenter's Escape From L.A., the long-in-coming sequel to his 1981
movie Escape From New York, is filled with such Hollywood in-jokes. These
sardonic moments go a long way toward keeping afloat a hopelessly choppy
adventure spoof that doesn't even to try to match the ghoulish surrealism of its
The sequel wants mostly to play it for laughs while serving up a series of silly
comic-book stunts. When dishing out its Hollywood humor, it succeeds in being
frothily diverting. Given this frame of mind, who else could possibly play the
grim, Bible-thumping president of a politically correct fascist Christian state
but Cliff Robertson, the hero of the real-life Hollywood expose "Indecent
Since the millennium, the capital of the country has been relocated to
Lynchburg, Va., and the government has outlawed cursing, smoking, drinking and
red meat. Los Angeles may be hellish, but at least, explains one exiled
character, there you can still wear a fur coat.
For good comic measure, the movie also throws in Pam Grier as a transsexual Los
Angeles overlord, and Steve Buscemi as the ultimate, fast-talking,
double-dealing, sleazy Hollywood agent, a slimeball with the unfortunate name of
Map to the Stars Eddie.
Kurt Russell is back, of course, a few pounds heavier than he was in Escape
From New York but still in good shape, as Snake Plissken, the stubbly-faced
indestructible warrior with an eye patch, a reptilian tattoo and a voice that
never rises above a gravelly whisper.
In this episode, Snake is forcibly recruited by the president to retrieve a
doomsday device that has fallen into the hands of Third World invaders
headquartered in Los Angeles. The enemy leader, Cuervo Jones (George Corraface),
is a Peruvian terrorist and Che Guevara look-alike who drives around in a
limousine with a row of baby dolls perched under the windshield and an
illuminated disco ball on the back.
Cuervo has captured the deadly device, a black box that can shut down all the
power on the planet, by intercepting the president's rebel daughter, Utopia (A.J.
Langer), on a virtual-reality trip and turning her into a revolutionary. Snake
is informed he has only a few hours to get back the box or he will succumb to a
hideous designer virus that has been implanted in his body through a hand
Escape From L.A., which the director wrote with Russell and Debra Hill,
is much too giddy to make sense as a politically astute pop fable. As amusing as
some of its notions may be, none are developed into sustained running jokes.
In its funniest concept, the post-millennial Beverly Hills is peopled entirely
by "surgical failures," those who have undergone so much cosmetic surgery that
they have all become Michael Jackson-like oddities and worse.
Anyone who ventures into the area is promptly captured and whisked to the former
Beverly Hills Hotel, now a filthy hospital run by a fright-masked chief surgeon
and his blood-spattered assistants, who tie up the prisoners and extract their
body parts for further surgery.
As the head of the place examines the body of a fresh female captive and touches
her breasts, he exclaims, "My God, they're real!"
But for the most part, the film's horror-movie vision of Los Angeles is
surprisingly unimaginative. More than anything else, the place suggests a giant
outdoor tattoo parlor crossed with an automobile junkyard.
Orlando Sentinel (Aug 09/1996/US) By Jay Boyar
Thinking back over the movies that have
come out in the last 15 years, I would not have seized on Escape From New
York as an ideal candidate for sequelization.
For one thing, the 1981 action flick is a draggy old thing - rather quaint by
today's Independence Day standards, but of interest mainly to its
inexplicable cult following. For another, as I recall the story, it leaves the
distinct impression that the world will shortly come to an end.
Nobody asked what I thought, however. So we now have John Carpenter's Escape
From L.A. (which opens today).
As in the first film, the hero is Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell), an eyepatch-wearing,
Eastwoodesque outlaw who is offered a full pardon to take on a dangerous
assignment. Snake must infiltrate Los Angeles and retrieve a deadly "black box"
that has been stolen by the president's renegade daughter.
Escape From New York was mainly set on Manhattan in 1997. The sequel is
mainly set in Los Angeles in the year 2013, after an earthquake has separated
L.A. from the United States.
The newly formed island has been declared by this country's government to be a
place for criminal exiles. And considering how very repressive the government is
in 2013, anyone who'd go to see an R-rated movie like this one would probably
qualify for deportation.
The first part of the title is there to assure the first film's cult following
that the original director is back on board. John Carpenter directed the sequel,
which he co-wrote with Russell and Debra Hill, who also co-produced it.
The filmmakers attempt satire, but they don't develop their ideas. We're told,
for example, that the government has turned the country into a fascist state in
which freedom no longer exists. But then the idea goes nowhere.
For the most part, Carpenter and Co. also miss their chance to spoof
contemporary Los Angeles.
It's an amusing indictment of show business that the weaselly agent character
played by Steve Buscemi has just the right personality to survive on the lawless
island. And there's a funny, chilling scene featuring the Surgeon General of
Beverly Hills (Bruce Campbell), a plastic surgeon who harvests the facial
features of living people for face lifts.
More typical, however, is the filmmakers' decision to set a major confrontation
at a Disneylandlike theme park and then do nothing with it. (In fact, the witty
trailers for the film are more successfully satirical than the film itself is.)
Such failed attempts at satire aside, John Carpenter's Escape From L.A.
is basically a routine action picture. The cast includes Cliff Robertson and A.J.
Langer as the president and his daughter; Stacy Keach and Michelle Forbes as two
of the president's operatives; and Pam Grier, Valeria Golino and George
Corraface as L.A. residents.
Peter Fonda pops up a couple of times as an aging hippie. But if there was a
point to his scenes - other than to underline the fact that Fonda starred in
Easy Rider in 1969 - I'm afraid it was just too subtle for me to grasp.
New York. L.A. What next? Escape From Orlando?
Now that Carpenter has dealt with both coasts, I'm hoping that he'll give this
franchise a rest. If he comes out with a third installment some 15 years hence,
I don't want to be there.
Guess it's never too soon to plan an escape.
San Francisco Chronicle (Aug 09/1996/US) By
Dark, percussive and perversely fun,
Escape From L.A. puts Kurt Russell as hard-nosed outlaw hero Snake Plissken
right where he belongs - in the ruins of Hollywood, where bravado on a Harley or
a surfboard can be a tool for survival.
The intense and visually savvy futuristic action adventure, opening today at
theaters throughout the Bay Area, is a sequel to Escape From New York and
a high point in director John Carpenter's ragged career of turning out
Carpenter's best idea was to hire visionary production designer Lawrence G.
Paull (Blade Runner) to create a dystopian rock 'n' roll Los Angeles
circa 2013, after a catastrophic earthquake.
In the movie's opening scenes, Los Angeles cracks up big time. It becomes an
island of rubble in the middle of a huge bay with Malibu at one end and Orange
County at the other. The San Fernando Valley is a sea filled with sharks and the
ruins of old freeways and collapsed apartment complexes. Compared with the
spare-looking Escape From New York, this Escape looks like a
Brueghel painting - dense, meaty, strangely beautiful. The filmmakers credit the
1994 Northridge quake as an inspiration.
Isolated from the rest of the United States, Los Angeles has become the ultimate
federal penitentiary, a handy dump used by a repressive government, whose
president, played by a wild-eyed Cliff Robertson, is a right-wing religious
fanatic. Smoking, eating red meat and having sex outside marriage are considered
sins against the state. And everybody had better pray, a lot, because a
political climate of strict moralism holds sway.
In enacting this tale, flinty hero Russell, who's done up like a '70s rock idol,
and veteran frightmeister Carpenter get to beat up on Southern California. They
play on familiar symbols - the Hollywood sign, Mulholland Drive, the Los Angeles
Coliseum, the Ventura Freeway, Grauman's Chinese Theatre, the Hollywood Bowl,
even Sunset and Doheny.
They turn Hollywood Boulevard into a nightmare of prostitutes and human vipers
and make Sunset Boulevard a drive through hell. Peter Fonda is a long-board
surfer living solely for the big rides on post-earthquake tsunamis. Russell
hangs ten on one such wave as it crests on Wilshire Boulevard - it's a great,
gnarly moment set against a backdrop of a city that Godzilla seems to have
stepped on, sparing only the lowrider gangs.
Underneath the film's "hey dude" attitude, Escape From L.A. is
surprisingly effective in picturing a former nirvana clenched in the twisted
rubble of its own excess. The City of Angels has become the perfect prison for
kooks, yet the film also shows us a somehow familiar America of kooks in high
places, preening and self-righteous, ruthless as rats.
The movie is so cleverly entrenched in its sardonic style that Russell's
toughest act must have been keeping a straight face. And yet the desperado
action hero, given nine hours to live by the cuckoo president, manages to
maintain a heroic sobriety and calm. Russell, with his retro long hair and his
signature cobra tattoo, is a singleminded, heavily armed and unflinching
warrior, whether commandeering a speeding truck or landing by bat-winged hang
glider in the Happy Kingdom - a reference, of course, to Disneyland. By no
coincidence, the gliders look a lot like the flying monkeys from Oz.
A setup familiar from the first Escape movie fuels the plot. Snake is
infected with a deadly dose of something - in this case, a virus - that
government officials say they'll deactivate if he completes his death-defying
The president wants Snake to recover a black box containing a doomsday device
that has found its way into the Los Angeles penitentiary via the president's
rebellious daughter, Utopia (A.J. Langer). She has taken up with a South
American revolutionary (George Corraface) who's plotting to have the "Third
World" invade the United States.
Snake is the ultimate loner, of course. The president and his minions (including
Stacy Keach and Michelle Forbes) would just as soon see him dead once the black
box is safely returned. And all the time, he has to contend with the murderous,
hellish spectacle of Los Angeles.
Although Snake is in every frame, the film is also filled with other great
characters, among them Steve Buscemi (Fargo) as a slimy hustler named
"Map to the Stars" Eddie, and Bruce Campbell as the surgeon general of Beverly
Hills, working fiendishly to make people out of body parts. His clinic is the
half-ruined Beverly Hills Hotel.
Valeria Golino shows up as the one potential love interest for Snake
(Carpenter's curvaceous ex, Adrienne Barbeau, is conspicuously absent from the
film). But Snake, too busy saving his own skin, doesn't bite.
Examiner (Aug 09/1996/US) By Barbara Shulgasser
John Carpenter and Kurt Russell liked collaborating on
Escape From New York so much that they just had to make Escape From L.A.
15 years later. They could have waited a little longer.
Although the script, written by Carpenter, Russell and Debra Hill, strains to
keep tongue embedded in cheek, too often it reads exactly like the kind of
violent, idiotic action pictures it seeks to mock.
Russell plays Snake Plissken, a renegade who made it out of the New York of the
nasty future and has now been captured by the evil president of the United
States (Cliff Robertson) for a grisly mission on the prison island of Los
Angeles. (It broke off from the mainland after a major earthquake.)
The United States has been turned into a republic of moral rectitude. Smoking,
red meat and religion are against the law. The exiles - dissidents, criminals
and "immorals" - on the island of L.A. are being roused into revolutionary
fervor by a mad South American leader named Cuervo Jones (George Corraface).
The president's misguided daughter has stolen a code that gives Cuervo use of a
doomsday device. Snake is told he's been contaminated with a deadly illness for
which he will only be given an antidote if he goes to L.A. to recover the device
and kill the daughter.
The few pleasures of this film include brief appearances by Steve Buscemi, who
plays a sniveling con man, and Pam Grier, who plays a transvestite called Hershe.
Peter Fonda, Stacy Keach and Valeria Golino enter and exit quickly, too. Bruce
Campbell, under a load of funny makeup, plays the Surgeon General of Beverly
Hills, whose chief function is to harvest surgically untouched body parts (from
kidnap victims) to be sewn onto his plastic surgery patients.
Russell milks his role for all its cartoonish juices and whispers most of
Snake's lines, as if to indicate seething fires just barely contained beneath
the surface. You may find yourself wishing that he'd speak up.
Washington Post (Aug 09/1996/US) By Desson
In the bleak, cultish Escape From New
York, made in 1981, the Manhattan of the future (well, 1997) as transformed
into a gotham-size prison for criminals. When the American president (Donald
Pleasence) was kidnapped and held by punks in the city, government forces
dispatched "Snake" Plissken (played by Kurt Russell), an eye patch-wearing tough
guy to spring the Chief Executive.
Escape From LA, which reunites Russell with director John Carpenter and
producer Debra Hill, takes up the story 16 years after the New York escapade.
The president (Cliff Robertson), a religious demagogue who operates from his
home base in, uh, Lynchburg, Va., has forced America into a puritanical police
state: no smokes, no red meat, no sex without marriage.
Snake, still wearing the patch and the brown leather jacket, is summoned again
by dark-suited government powers. It seems the president's renegade daughter,
Utopia (AJ Langer), has stolen the key to a doomsday device and escaped to Los
Angeles. The city, surrounded by a natural moat (thanks to a devastating
earthquake), has become a de facto holding cell for angry dissidents, including
Utopia's warlord-boyfriend, Cuervo Jones (George Corraface).
Snake refuses to retrieve the key until the president informs him that he has
been infected with a fatal virus. He has nine hours to live. If he completes the
mission in time, the government will give him an instant cure. In his
trash-mythic quest, Snake meets an amusing, post-apocalyptic queue of helpers,
including Utopia; an aging surfer-dude called Pipeline (Peter Fonda); a savvy
survivor called Taslima (Valeria Golino); and Hershe (Pam Grier), an old male
friend of Snake's who is now a female friend. Snake is also befriended by a
shady character called Map to the Stars Eddie (the ubiquitous, but delightful
Steve Buscemi), who claims to have the inside dope on Cuervo.
Compared to Escape From New York, the weapons are bigger and the violence
is more extensive, although it's toned down by today's excessive standards.
There are also greater special effects this time, involving holograms and
nuclear-powered submarines. But Escape From LA is more enjoyable in a
playful way. The movie takes not-so-subtle digs at the Christian Right,
Hollywood's obsession with plastic surgery, and Walt Disney. And in the special
effects department, Snake and hippie friend Pipeline surf on the crest of a
tsunami all the way down Wilshire Boulevard.
Escape From LA also replicates many of the elements from its predecessor.
In the first film, for instance, a disembodied voice informs prisoners heading
out to the Manhattan prison that they have "the option to terminate and be
cremated on the premises." That sentiment is picked up again, as convicts headed
for Los Angeles are given this message: "You now have the option to repent for
your sins and be electrocuted on the premises." The more things change, it
seems, the more they remain the same.
Washington Post (Aug 09/1996/US) By Esther
The success of the summer blockbuster
Independence Day has proven that a lot of Americans will pay money to see
their cities in rubble. The prospect of such destruction haunts us, fascinates
us. It is still our ultimate terror-fantasy.
Using this fascination as a jumping-off point, Escape From LA tries but
fails to be an action-hero flick or even a parody of one. Instead, in this
sequel to 1981's Escape From New York, Kurt Russell stars as the antihero
Snake Plissken, who believes only in himself. Its ridiculous and depressing
scenes tell us that real Americans are squeezed between a corrupt and crazy
federal government and a criminal, immoral and usually dark population of city
dwellers. Americans must shoot, knife and beat their way to freedom. If
necessary, they must bring on Armageddon. This film could serve as an anthem for
the militia movement.
Just as in Escape From New York, when the entire island of Manhattan is
turned into a maximum-security prison, Escape From LA turns Los Angeles
into an island prison after an earthquake breaks it off from the rest of the
continental United States. Downtown skyscrapers, freeways and Universal Studios
are under water. Much of what remains is rubble or is about to be rendered so by
Los Angeles is the place where the government, headed by an evangelical
president, sends those considered criminal, immoral and generally unfit for
society. The film hints that not everybody is a dangerous criminal - one Muslim
woman is sent there after her Midwestern town outlaws her religion. But the
lawless streets are crowded with prostitutes, killers and all kinds of people up
to no good. Living in this urban hell is punishment enough for the inmates who
freely roam the streets.
Plissken's mission is to go into LA, find the president's daughter Utopia (AJ
Langer) and retrieve highly classified equipment - which has the potential to
destroy the planet - that she has stolen. Utopia has taken up with Cuervo Jones
(George Corraface), a South American revolutionary leader who heads the
city-prison's army. Plissken does not work for the government willingly. After
eluding the authorities for years, he has been captured. Government agents have
injected a ticking viral time bomb into his body and, just as in New York, he
must complete his mission in time to receive a lifesaving antidote.
As he goes on his bad-boy rounds, the action is only mildly entertaining. Some
of the best scenes come when director John Carpenter (who also wrote the script
along with Debra Hill and Russell) makes use of the bizarre Los Angeles
landscape. In one, Plissken is taken into a Beverly Hills hospital operated both
for and by people who are "surgical failures" - they've had too many transplants
and face lifts and don't quite look human. Peter Fonda makes a great surfer
dude, Pam Grier does odd duty as a feared power broker living aboard an
abandoned cruise ship and Steve Buscemi does a good job as a weasel who, even in
this LA, sells maps to stars' homes.
Sometimes it seems the two Escape movies want us to laugh at Plissken.
Everyone thinks he's dead. He's shorter than everyone expects. He speaks in a
gruff whisper that sounds more like he has the flu than like he's tough. And his
eye patch would seem to render his peripheral vision less then action-hero
But as yet another Rambo-type drama is set up - the lone white man with a big
gun and a big mission, thrown among the dark heathens - some of us might have a
hard time laughing.
Variety (Aug 12/1996/US) By Todd McCarthy
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
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
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.
Tucson Weekly (Aug 15/1996/US) By Stacy
Escape From L.A., the latest from John Carpenter (The Thing, Halloween,
etc.), is utterly without any redeeming moral values in the conventional sense.
True to the title, it's pure escapist schlock in the grand tradition of the
B-movie. It's got all the drive-in movie goodies: bizarre characters,
over-the-top acting, cheesy special effects, slutty costumes and gallons of
blood. The only thing this movie wants is for us to have a good time without
guilt, and since the heat has immobilized the intellect of most Tucsonans
anyway, why resist? Yes, it's a vapid, cheesy movie with plot holes you could
drive a truck through. Yes, it's exciting and funny and sort of great.
Escape From L.A. is a reprise of Carpenter's 1981 Escape From New York:
To call it a sequel wouldn't make much sense, since the two are so alike. In
Escape From New York, Snake Plisskin (Kurt Russell, all young and buff) is
sent into New York in the futuristic hell of 1997. The rotten Big Apple has been
converted to a penal colony without keepers or guards; prisoners are dumped
there and left to their own wicked devices. Snake, a criminal himself, is sent
on a suicide mission to rescue the President, whose plane has crashed there.
Escape From L.A. works with the same elements but shuffles them around:
It's the 21st century and the Big One has plunged some of California into the
ocean, leaving L.A. an island. Moral degeneracy, rather than crime, qualifies
even children for incarceration on the island. (These crimes, never directly
specified, seem to include smoking cigarettes, eating beef and being Muslim.)
Kurt Russell, grizzled and buff, goes on a suicide mission to retrieve a
doomsday device hijacked by the President's flake of a daughter, Utopia (A.J.
Langer). Similarities abound. In the first Escape, Snake is injected with
timed intravenous explosives. In the second, he's injected with a timed virus.
In both, the baddest bad guy drives a funny car with a disco ball, sinful
prisoners sport eighties punk rock attire, and portions of dialogue are repeated
word for word.
All this leaves Escape From L.A. with a major dilemma: If it's so close
to prequel, what's the point? The answer seems to be, there is no point.
Escape From L.A. is gloriously pointless. It's completely redundant. There's
very little difference between renting Escape From New York and going to
the theater to see Escape From L.A. My guess is that John Carpenter
figured he could capture a whole new generation of viewers who weren't out of
diapers the first time around.
That's not to say there aren't differences between the two versions. The first
Escape capitalizes on the Cold War fear of nuclear apocalypse. The second
is lighter and more ironic--it capitalizes on the fear of ecological degradation
and the dangers of militant non-smokers. The first has gritty sets of a decaying
New York. The second has a party atmosphere, with glittery sets of the decaying
Santa Monica freeway, half-dead vampiric Californians craving plastic surgery
and aging surfers riding tsunamis.
As dumb and enjoyable as Escape From L.A. is, the truth is, Escape
From New York is a better movie. It's darker, bleaker, and has the force of
originality to propel it. Escape From L.A. lacks tension - it lifts Snake
to the level of superhero so we know he'll never get hurt, and the fear of
moralistic non-smokers can never, ever equal the shared societal dread of the
Cold War era. Carpenter's true talent is his ability to frighten, and he
abandons it in Escape From L.A. in favor of shlocky style and humor.
But it almost doesn't matter. Escape From L.A. is so energetic and goofy
that only the most die-hard fan of the eighties post-apocalyptic genre is going
to get nostalgic for Carpenter's sinister side. All the rest of us have to do is
work on enjoying the gratuitous leather bikinis, exploding cars and fountains of
Weekly Alibi (Aug 21/1996/US) By Devin D. O'Leary
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
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."
Entertainment Weekly (Aug 23/1996/US) By
and the Planet of the Apes sequels may have paved the way for it, but
John Carpenter's Escape From New York (1981) was the first movie to
look at the not-too-distant future of American life and see a junk pile, an
urban dream falling apart. Even the hero was falling apart: Kurt Russell's Snake
Plissken wore an eye patch and a burnout scowl. The film was too crudely made to
qualify as a "vision" (that would come later, with Blade Runner and
RoboCop), but what kept you watching was the novelty of the premise -
Manhattan as an entropic sci-fi comic-book hell.
By now, that decaying-future image pops up once a month or so (most recent
version: Barb Wire). Carpenter, though, hasn't lost his sense of
John Carpenter's Escape From L.A.
comes along at the perfect moment to honor the passing of the torch from New
York to Los Angeles as America’s official Capital of the Apocalypse.
Once again, Snake has to enter a sprawling urban prison zone and, with a deadly
virus implanted in his blood, carry out a suicide mission. I have no idea why
Russell is doing a brazen Clint Eastwood impersonation, but I do know that no
one who looks this good need croak out his lines in this steely a whisper.
Carpenter's L.A. suggests a Bosnian refugee camp outfitted by Frederick's of
Hollywood. Every so often, we get to feast our eyes upon a trashed landmark -
cheesy B-movie mock-ups of the Capitol Records tower and the Beverly Hills Hotel
lying in ruins. Carpenter never was the filmmaker his cult claimed him to be,
but in Escape From L.A., he at least has the instinct to keep his hero
moving, like some leather-biker Candide. Among Snake's more amusing pit stops: a
gladiatorial basketball game in the L.A. Coliseum and a cosmetics emporium run
by the "Surgeon General of Beverly Hills."
Sci-Fi Universe (Sep/1996/US) By Robert Meyer Burnett
At the conclusion of l981's beloved Escape from New York, Kurt Russell's
battered Snake Plissken walks over to Donald Pleasence's recently liberated
President of the United States and asks. "We did get you out. A lot of people
died in the process. l just wanted to know how you felt about it?" After
listening disappointedly to the President's obviously canned response, Snake
realizes his own cynicism is well-founded and he opts to destroy a tape
containing a weapons formula that's hoped will bring an end to global conflict.
But Snake did offer the President a choice before delivering his coup de grace,
establishing himself as an honorable man, despite his scrappy,
survive-at-all-costs persona. This moment displayed characterization and
maturity seldom seen in a low-budget action film, which is why Escape From
New York and the character of Snake Plissken remain high points in both
director John Carpenter's career and modern genre cinema history.
As an unabashed Carpenter afficionado, believing him to be one of the great
genre directors of all time. I desperately hoped the much-anticipated (for
sixteen years!) sequel to Escape would not only prove a worthy successor
to the original film, but also bring John Carpenter long-overdue respect from
critical, box-office and popular quarters, forever eliminating his "cult"
director status. So, full of perhaps too much expectation, l snuck in to an
advance screening of Escape From L.A. on the Paramount lot, where, with a
house packed with obvious industry types, I witnessed an admittedly unfinished
work print of the film.
As I awaited the film's unspooling, it quickly became apparent to me that
everyone in the theatre (even the jaded professionals) was pulling for the
film's success. Everyone in attendance wanted it to be great; no one more so
then myself. Unfortunately, and with a sadness usually reserved for the passing
of a loved one, I must report that Escape From L.A. proved not just
another crushing summer disappointment, but perhaps the most unsatisfying film
of Carpenter's two-decade-plus oeuvre
After a humorous and effective opening sequence detailing the destruction of Los
Angeles in the "big one," the rise to power of a fanatically right-wing
President and America's transformation into a puritan nation, the film quickly
develops its greatest flaw: its utter failure to credible establish very
universe in which it takes place. Unlike the first film's wonderfully realized
New York milieu, which utilized a combination of actual locations (mostly St.
Louis and Los Angeles) and a carefully chosen combination of matte and miniature
work (under the supervision of James Cameron, no less). Escape From L.A.'s
complete over-reliance on cheesy computer generated effect5 and unconvincing
composite work constantly draw attention to themselves, detracting from the
audience's ability to accept the film's premise.
Additionally, while the story itself is almost identical to the original film's
plot, it makes little sense, barely hanging together at all. As Snake's
life-clock ticks down 10 his own personal annihilation, the denizens of Los
Angeles are supposedly preparing to participate in a coordinated Third World
invasion of the United States. How they plan to accomplish this feat is never
explained. Meanwhile, the world of Los Angeles and the relationships of the
characters residing in it simply aren't clear. Who are these people, and how is
power inside of Los Angeles distributed (Why do people live in such fear of the
Duke of LA., Cuervo Jones? Snake's initial foray into Los Angeles, after
surviving a mildly interesting submarine ride through the ruins of the San
Fernando Valley and a mud slide about as scary as Splash Mountain, becomes
rather promising as he walks amidst the grungy extras choking Hollywood
Boulevard in a colorful, hellish splash of society run amok. Then, however, it
seems as if the production suddenly ran out of money, as the flow of extras
dries up when Snake reaches Sunset Blvd for a rather unsatisfying cycle chase.
The film does hawe its moments. Bruce Campbell, almost unrecognizable as the
Plastic Surgeon General of Beverly Hills, has a great time with his role.
Unfortunately, just when he begins to get scary, his character quickly drops out
of sight, never to be heard from again. Another effective moment, evocative of
Carpenter's second feature Assault on Precinct 13 (which, rather then
EFNY, should have served as EFLA's inspiration, comes as Snake runs
afoul of the Korean Dragons while trying to navigate down a choked Interstate 5.
Like Escape From L.A.'s beat-for-beat rehash of the first film's
plotline, Kurt Russell's Snake Plissken walks, talks and even looks exactly like
he did sixteen years ago. Some kind of character development desperately is
needed here. What's happened to him in the intervening years? No one, not even
Snake Plissken, can't have at least some of time's relentless passage.
The original film's larger-than-life secondary characters are also sorely
missed. With the exception of Pam Grier in the Harry Dean Stanton role as
Carjack Mallone, a former buddy of Snake's before he sold him out and had a sex
change, and the wonderful Valerie Golino as a babe caught after dark in the
proverbial wrong place at the wrong time (in the only sequence that taps into
the hellishness of life today in the City of Angels), Escape From L.A.'s
cast of lowlifes and misfits never comes to life. Stacey Keach, playing Lee Van
Cleef's role, never seems to know what to do with himself, projecting none of
the menacingly grudging respect Snake Plissken deserves. Michelle Forbes,
Star Trek's Ensign Ro, usually a hot spicy salsa number in her own right,
seems wooden and one-note. Steve Buscemi as Map to the Stars Eddie, isn't given
one funny line. Aside from his initial appearance (humorous only because of the
baggage he carries in the pop cultural zeitgeist), Mr. Pink adds surprisingly
little to the film. As Cuervo Jones, the film's heavy, George Corraface brings
none of the over-the-top histrionics Isaac Hayes so wonderfully brought to his
Duke of New York.
The greatest disappointment, however, comes from Peter Fonda's Pipeline, L.A.'s
resident sage surfer. Pipeline requires the manic intensity of, say, Dennis
Hopper in Apocalypse Now, but Fonda instead sleepwalks his way through
the role, barely managing a credible "far out."
The film's climax, a hang glider attack on Cuervo Jones's headquarters in the
ruins of the former Happy Kingdom, while an inspired idea, comes off instead as
incoherent. Aside from utilizing the gliders to bypass traffic, why are they
using them to attack a horde of gun-toting thugs able to pick them off simply by
shooting up? How are gliders able to maneuver in an enclosed space? Where does
Map to the Stars Eddie disappear to - a ride on the Matterhorn perhaps? Even the
editing during this sequence, sluggish through most of the film, makes little
sense here. Shots follow shots for no reason, generating absolutely no tension
and very little suspense, traits Carpenter usually creates with his eyes closed.
And the opportunities for parody inherent in the setting (a thinly veiled
Disneyland) are totally squandered, as Carpenter only pays lip service to the
film's apparent liberal agenda of examining an America overrun by Ralph Reed
As much as it pains me lo admit it - especially after the absolute glee l fell
while viewing In the Mouth of Madness - John Carpenter needs to rediscover
the innovative passion clearly on display in his earlier works. Simply put, he
needs a vacation. But make no mistake, I want him to come back. And while
Escape From L.A.'s failure will hardly diminish my love of Escape From
New York, I still feel the same sadness at the tremendous unrealized
potential I witnessed here that I experienced when viewing Return of the Jedi
and Generations for the first time, films which, previous to Escape
From L.A., were the greatest disappointments of my genre cinema-going life.
New Statesman (Sep 20/1996/UK) By Boyd Tonkin
As Independence Day has proved in spades, Americans
just love to trash their towns. Ever since the Founding Fathers taught the
rebels to worship sturdy farmers with ten acres and a gun, native art has often
treated any settlement bigger than a village (or a suburb) as Sodom and Gomorrah
John Carpenter - whose fierce and funny genre films have teased the hang-ups of
his compatriots for 20 years - first touched on his urban angst with Escape
From New York. In 1981 he imagined the Manhattan of 1997 as a barbaric penal
colony run by (of all people) soul magnate Isaac Hayes. Well, 1997 is just
around the corner. New York boasts a plummeting crime rate, street awash with
firm-but-fair beat cops and a Republican mayor who hosts admiring visits from
British Labour bigwigs. A Republican mayor? Now we're really talking science
Carpenter, of course, knows very well that his business involves myth and not
prediction. The aliens, demons and urban scum of his reliable stylish films
sometimes wobble between sending up all-American paranoia and giving it another
whirl. That certainly goes for Escape From L.A., which transplants his
1981 premise to the Pacific coast 2013. It mixes hi-tech Armageddon in the
Blade Runner mould, mockery of the pious right and PC left alike, and
honest-to-badness action scenes sporting mammoth sidearms and plenty of bangs
for your buck. Carpenter aims for spectacle with lemony twist of satire. And few
punters will complain by the time that Kurt Russell shuts down the entire planet
so he can light a fag at last. Some people (I'm told) will know just how he
As in Escape From New York, Russell plays the villainous hired gun Snake
Plissken - a gravel-voiced berserker who makes Arnie look like Aled Jones. After
the Big One (in AD 2000, natch), the post-quake city of LA has turned into a
lawless island gulag. In its debris live the "moral criminals" expelled from
non-smoking, church-going mainland USA. Snake's mission is to rescue the errant
daughter of a righteous president - Cliff Robertson as a snarling,
hatchet-featured bigot - and so earn the antidote to a fatal designer virus that
the Feds have thoughtfully injected into him.
Armed with a Secret Weapon (the same one, oddly, as in Goldeneye), young
Utopia - AJ Langer - has holed up on the "island of the damned" with a
Latino warlord played by George Corraface as a Che Guevara lookalike. We can
tell that Utopia has decided to party with the street people because she
forsakes her prissy pink suits for leather hot pants. In fact, LA's reversion to
the Dark Ages has (as in Blade Runner) meant a sales boom for the Leather
Manufacturers of America. The two films share a designer, Lawrence Paull, who
strews the nocturnal sets with his trademark roadside braziers, punkish wreckage
and a general air of grungy bazaar. Dystopia, did someone say? I've seen worse
at London's Camden Lock on Sunday afternoon.
Amid these flame-lit ruins Snake meets a menagerie of exotic local fauna.
There's Steve Buscemi as the pallid tout with a Hollywood hustler's line in
patter; Pam Grier as a sassy transvestite mobster - half Tina Turner, half Ice T
- and Bruce Campbell, a demented cosmetic surgeon who runs his body-parts
workshop on KwikFit principles. Oh, and Peter Fonda does a little night-time
surfing whenever a tsunami rips down Wilshire Boulevard.
Carpenter crafts all of them as sulphurous cartoons of LA types today, not in
2013. But then he has to hurry, Russell into the next heavy-metal showdown. So
the mischief and the mayhem seldom coincide - except in one glorious shot
through the "Hollywood" sign, looking down on the vast bonfires below. "Why,
this is hell, nor are we out of it," as Mephistopheles (that well-known casting
agent) once remarked.
We never quite grasp how the mainland has fallen prey to such a toxic blend of
Pat Buchanan and Jane Fonda. With Snake spitting dialogue along the lines of
"Don't piss me off or I'll pull the plug." neither will anyone care. (They do.
He does.) Carpenter gives a fine lurid spin to the puritan fantasy of a
shattered metropolis, complete with blasted freeways and toppled tower-blocks
skulking on the ocean floor like images from JG Ballard. "Devine retribution,"
snaps the Pres. At least "a girl can still wear a fur coat if she wants to,"
says one of Russell's short-lived sidekicks.
The satire never really moves beyond animal hides and nicotine jokes. Stuck at
that level, this spirited hybrid of Judge Dredd and The Handmaid's
Tale can't deliver the Big One for John Carpenter. All the same, it should
set some teacups rattling in the smug, smoke-free conventicles that stretch from
sea to shining sea.
Sunday Telegraph (Sep 28/1996/UK) By Chris
It has been 16 years since John
Escape From New York,
which has become a late-night video favourite for impressionable girls, but
hardly anything has changed for his belated sequel, Escape From
LA (15). Kurt
Russell's Snake Plissken certainly hasn't changed his clothes since then. The
designer stubble is still intact, and the voice still sounds like a rusty
band-saw. Curiously his eye-patch does seem to have shifted from the right to
the left eye, but the old line in insolent banter and the serious problem with
authority are still the same.
The plot is a shameless re-tread too. This time it is Los Angeles that has been
turned into a prison for all those dissidents who don't like the idea of living
in an America which has been declared a no-smoking zone, where red meat and sex
outside marriage have been banned, and the President (Cliff Robertson) is a
crazed fundamentalist. Into this hellish region Snake must venture in order to
rescue the President's daughter, who has done a Patty Hearst and decamped with a
doomsday machine into the arms of the chief criminal. And, as in all the best
thrillers, time is running out. Snake has been injected with a deadly virus,
just to ensure his return for the antidote.
There are plenty of nice touches in the film. Sunset Boulevard is a wrecked car
dump, the LA Coliseum has become an execution ground, and Snake even gets to
surf a huge wave down the length of Wilshire Boulevard accompanied by old hippy
Peter Fonda. In the original film, Snake was always greeted with, "I thought you
were dead." This time around it is, "I thought you'd be taller." But that is all
the film really amounts to - a series of good moments strung together without
much sense of purpose. The action film has come a long way in 10 years, and we
now expect aliens blowing up Washington in full close-up. Had this film come out
14 years ago, it would probably still be a late-night video treat, rather than
looking a mite tired.
Empire (Oct/1996/UK) By Kim Newman
In 1981, John Carpenter, then a hot
director whose track record included Dark Star, Assault On Precinct 13
and Halloween, made Escape From New York, a futuristic action
movie starring Kurt Russell as Snake Plissken, an eyepatch-sporting, dirtbag
hero. Now a decade and a half later, Carpenter has slipped to DTV
disappointments such as Village Of The Damned while Russell has never
quite graduated from star to superstar.
Along with producer Debra Hill, the pair have got back together to knock
together a screenplay for a sequel. And in so doing, they have come up with lots
of neat ideas and characters, but still fall back on the same old, far from
An earthquake has turned Los Angeles into an island where President Cliff
Robertson dumps the nation's undesirables. However, LA's Che Guevara wannabe
supremo, Cuervo Jones (Corraface) has got hold of a remote control unit that can
shut off all the machines in the world.
The fascist Christian regime again calls on the still shaggy, still unshaven
Russell to retrieve the macguffin. Given that a fair budget has been allowed,
it's a shame that the whole thing seems such a scrappy dull-witted spectacle,
with extras standing around in the dark as Snake breezes past on mini-sub, bike,
helicopter or surfboard.
The stupidity of the plot can be gauged from the sequence in which the one-eyes
Plissken saves his life by demonstrating his basketball skills (close one eye
and try to shoot some hoops for further elucidation). There are promising
characters played by decent actors - Stacy Keach as head cop, Peter Fonda as a
surfer dude, Bruce Campbell as a plastic surgeon, Buscemi as a triple-crosser,
Pam Grier as a transvestite - but no one has anything to do except trade insults
with Snake and get left behind by the film's race to go nowhere fast. In 1981,
Escape From New York seemed like Carpenter's least interesting film; now,
Escape From L.A. makes it seem a masterpiece.
Film Review (Oct/1996/UK) By James
Snake is back.
Fifteen years ago, Kurt Russell and John Carpenter teamed up to make Escape
From New York, which, for various reasons, became something of a cult. Kurt
played an exceedingly gruff anti-hero called Snake "Call me Snake" Plissken, who
is forced to extradite the US president from within the prison walls of the Big
Russell, who makes a habit of working with Carpenter, wanted to do a sequel as
far back as 1985. When the Northridge earthquake struck in early 1994, he hit on
an idea for a follow-up, which he has now collaborated on as co-scripter and
This time it is the City of Angels which is the prison, an island cut off from
the mainland following a devastating quake ("The Big One"). Set in the year
2013, America has become a politically orthodox nightmare, where smoking, read
meat and unapproved marriages are outlawed. Transgressors are promptly shut off
to LA island which now harbours the detritus of society psychopaths, prostitutes
and those who wear real fur.
Injected with a time-coded virus, Snake is given eight hours to gatecrash LA,
retrieve a stolen doomsday gizmo and get back to terra firma.
As to be expected from a budget of $50 million, the special effects are
brilliant (particularly the initial quake), the sets are awesome and the humour
suitably tongue-in-cheek. Russell still looks great at 45 and never betrays his
material, although the gaps in the logic frequently do. However, there's enough
good material here to auger another sequel, just so long as Russell can keep to
his work-out regimen.
Select (Oct/1996/UK) By Clark Collis
john Carpenter's Escape From L.A. is really for Those People Who Loved
Escape From New York More Than Life Itself And Want To See It Re-Made With A
Much Bigger Budget. Of course, the irony here is that (a) virtually no one went
to see the first one and (b) despite being handed
$40m, Carpenter has made a
movie that actually looks far cheaper than the first one. Apart from that it's
business as usual. Kurt Russell is sent off to a post-apocalyptic wasteland and
gets into scrapes while looking rather surly. Carpenterheads should be more than
satisfied, although everyone else will think that they've bought themselves a
day pass to hell. The worrying thing, though, is that, should be some miracle
Escape From L.A. become a massive success, then it will conclusively prove
that Hollywood really can flog us any cold rubbish that it fancies.
SFX (Oct/1996/UK) By Anthony Brown
"Sounds familiar," to quote Snake Plissken.
The escape pod from a presidential jet has gone down in an American
metropolis-turned-penal colony and the future of the entire planet depends on
its contents. The only man who can recover them is that notorious
hero-turned-outlaw Snake Plissken, who's already facing an artificially-induced
personal countdown which ensures he won't live to see Armageddon if he fails...
Once upon a time, before they got respectable(-ish), sequels were often
shameless remakes of the original - and Escape From L.A. harks back to
such days. The scenario's exactly the same, Snake's allies and enemies in LA are
cut from the same stereotypes as those he met in New York, and 16 years on.
Plissken's still a celebrity of such stature even Madonna would want his
But this is no straightforward by-the-numbers remake. The situations may be the
same, but the outcomes are frequently different - you can almost see Carpenter
raiding his garage for the scenes and drafts he didn't use in 1979. The result
is more an alternative version of Escape From New York than a
reproduction, and has a knowing wit on occasion. For a start, everyone knows
what happened in the previous film, so Michelle Forbes and Stacy Keach's
government agents are always one step ahead of Snake as he tries the same old
The basic scenario has also been tweaked to introduce an up-to-the-minute
satirical edge, outlined in a sardonically amusing "history lesson" which opens
the film. In the year 2000, "The Big One" struck Los Angeles, a few weeks after
a right-wing presidential candidate predicted that God would wipe this
modern-day Sodom and Gomorrah from the face of the Earth. Not unnaturally, he
got elected... and 13 years on the President-for-life has made Los Angeles
island a penal colony for those convicted of "moral crimes" against his
religious republic. Unfortunately, his teenage daughter Utopia's going through a
bit of a rebellious phase and has stolen the trigger for a network of orbiting
EM pulse generators which could put an end to technology worldwide. If the
trigger should happen to fall into the hands of her guru, Peruvian guerilla
Cuervo Jones, it's goodbye America... And some would say good riddance.
There's certainly a good ironic edge to Escape, with some neat throwaway
lines, including a casual reference to a certain major movie company being
bankrupted by a disastrous theme park outside Paris... More serious is the claim
that the chaos of LA represents, "the last place where the American dream
survives, free from the regulations of a dictorial government." Apparently
enough, the character who says this is soon afterwards gunned down by a burst of
deregulated street gunfire...
Sadly, this aspect of the film is rather half-heartedly explored. The inmates of
LA are supposedly prostitutes, atheists, meat-eaters, smokers, etc... but
they're more your standard issue street scum than the mix of liberals,
eccentrics and down-and-outs you'd expect to fall foul of a fundamentalist
president, and the obvious irony of, "Well, look how politically correct they
are now..." is conspicuous by its absence.
Escape From L.A. also loses a few grades for being such a blatant repeat
of the original, particularly on the occasions when doing so makes nonsense of
the plot. Cuervo Jones is supposedly the ruler of a hefty chunk of the Third
World and about to launch a full-scale invasion of the United Stetes, so why's
he wasting time lording it over LA? Does he make a habit of hanging around just
in case President's daughter drops in with the key to a doomsday weapon?
Also disappointingly are the off-embarrassing CGI effects and a number of
awkward plot holes. Why do the helicopter pilots leave the safety of the
bullet-proof machine, for instance? Could it possibly be that the vehicle wasn't
bullet-proof until it needed to be a few minutes later?
However, as more of the same, Escape From L.A. is enjoyable, and boosted
by a wise reinterpretation of the original's memorable score. Plus, the ending
ensures the inevitable third installment will have to thread a distinctly
different path to its predecessors. Mad Max meets Survivors in
Escape From the Earth, anyone?
Sight & Sound (Oct/1996/UK) By Philip
2013 A.D. Los Angeles has become an island,
abandoned to its own lawlessness by the rest of the US which is ruled by a
fundamentalist President. Controlled by ruthless South American revolutionary
Cuervo Jones, the LA penal colony is joined by the President's runaway daughter,
Utopia, who brings with her the controlling device for a satellite weapon that
could shut down the entire planet. Assigned to recover the device and eliminate
Utopia is the infamous outlaw Snake Plissken, whose reward will be a full pardon
and the antidote to a fatal virus with which he has been secretly infected.
Plissken reaches the island and makes his way down Sunset Boulevard. When Jones
drives by, Plissken commandeers a bike to follow him but gets delayed by four of
Jones' men. He refuses guidance to Jones' headquarters offered by 'Map to the
Stars' Eddie. When Snake pauses to rescue a girl, Taslima, from mysterious
cowled figures, they capture him as well. They are taken to the laboratory of
the Surgeon General of Beverly Hills, who wants their body parts, but Plissken
breaks free and escapes with Taslima. She is later killed by a stray bullet.
Jones threatens to activate the satellite system unless he is provided with a
helicopter. Meanwhile, Plissken falls into Jones' hands and is forced to play a
basketball game at the LA Coliseum in order to stay alive. An earthquake hits
and Plissken escapes, closely followed by Utopia with the satellite controls.
Eddie shoots Plissken in the leg and makes off with the device, but with the
help of a surfing fanatic, Pipeline, Plissken rides a tsunami wave down
Wilshire Boulevard and catches up with him.
Plissken Finds a former associate, Carjack, now called Hershe and persuades her
to help him capture the helicopter being sent to collect Jones. As it lands
there is a monumental battle in which Jones and Eddie destroy each other but
Plissken manages to airlift Utopia to the mainland. Awaiting them, Malloy
reveals that the "fatal virus" was actually harmless, while the President straps
Utopia to an electric chair and gets ready to unleash satellite firepower at all
the US's enemies. Plissken, however, has retained the genuine control tape and
shuts down the planet's power sources, saving Utopia from electrocution.
"Sounds familiar," murmurs the one-eyed Snake in his habitual Eastwood monotone,
and much of the point of Escape From L.A. is that it shamelessly copies
the Plissken predicament of 15 years ago in Escape From New York. Not
much has changed: the president is still an arrogant coward, the country's
city-sized primary prison still has all the supplies it needs to maintain a
state of enthusiastic anarchy, and there is still one inmate so untamable that
he has to be kept in a different prison, making him conveniently
available for special projects. When a piece of equipment falls into the wrong
hands, there is still no specially-trained undercover unit available to get it
back. There is only one grimy, growling, grumpy old Snake, eye-patch and stubble
miraculously unimpaired by the passing years, willing to infiltrate enemy lines
because the latest designer drug will otherwise shut him down in the next few
Although claimed by Kurt Russell as his favourite role, Snake makes poor
company. While his contempt for the New Moral America, with its ranting
evangelistic leader and black-armoured police troops, appears not unreasonable,
the exact nature of a career so monstrous that the entire underworld is in awe
of him is left disturbingly unspecified. Serial killer? Great train robber?
Chain smoker (cigarettes are now banned)? How would he actually spend his
freedom if he had any? Belying his name, he has no time to waste on charm,
although he automatically comes to the rescue of women in distress only to walk
away when they're out of danger. Snake's main purpose seems solely to survive in
situations where survival is unlikely, an often remarkable achievement which
serves only to deepen his perpetual scowl.
Substituting Stacey Keach for Lee Van Cleef, the ubiquitous Steve Buscemi for
Ernest Borgnine, and Che Guevara lookalike George Corraface for Isaac Hayes,
Escape From L.A. is the weaker for having found no clear equivalent to the
Harry Dean Stanton/Adrienne Barbeau partnership in the earlier film. Clumsily
handled as that was, it conveyed a pathos, even an illusion of purpose, that the
new audience throws aside except, perhaps, in the case of the wistful surfer (a
wholly self-absorbed Peter Fonda) briefly riding his dreams on the edge of the
action. Intended, of course, as nothing more significant than a subversive romp
for Plissken admirers, the film is welter of in-jokes, out-jokes, allusions and
references, sprinkled lightly with great special effects. At this level,
exercising indulgent goodwill, we may cheer the glimpse of Paul Bartel, the
running gag "I though you'd be taller" (last time it was "I though you were
dead"), the glee with which Carpenter has reduced identifiable bits of Los
Angeles to ruins, and the happy invention of the Surgeon General, cosmetic
specialist of Beverly Hills, with his desperate band of clients whose face lifts
are coming apart at the seams.
Indicative of what it might have been, the earthquake opening - while inevitably
in the shadows of Independence Day as all disasters must now be - is
appealingly cataclysmic, and there is a glimpse of the submersible gliding among
drowned buildings that suggest a much classier mood and pace. What the films
lacks is certainly not the sparkle of unusual images but any sense of confidence
about what to do with them. Even the wonderfully ridiculous spectacle of a tidal
wave pursuing a car down Wilshire Boulevard fails to dissipate the film's
drudging quality. As happens disappointingly often in John Carpenter's later
work, an increasing tedium suggests that while variations on themes of siege and
evasion are no end of fun for him to think up, the business of filming them is
something of a chore.
Starburst (Oct/1996/UK) By Alan Jones
They say a picture paints a thousand words. But Escape From L.A. is CRAP.
And as for the description 'sequel', what a nerve! I feel a new dictionary
definition is in order to describe this manufactured mess of meaningless
machismo. A shambolic big budget (complete with egos) remake of the far superior
Escape From New York, this actionless, humourless, tedious, paceless,
empty vessel of worn-out ideas is the worst John Carpenter movie since - well,
the last John Carpenter movie.
Escape From L.A. is far too late, much too predictable and, I fear the
final nail in John Carpenter's creative coffin. Beginning like Earthquake
(showing the cheesy devastation making L.A. a future island) and ending up as
Flash Gordon (with the goodies hang-gliding into the baddies' den), this is one
Hollywood tour not worth taking. It's an endless parade of of uninspired a
unimaginative set-pieces played out amongst the ruins of Beverly Hills and
Mulholland Drive, charting Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell's) search for a doomsday
device stolen by the American President's daughter and given to the Castro-like
revolutionary head (George Corraface) of the tarnished City of Angels.
Snake has been injected with a slow-acting deadly virus to blackmail him into
cruising the streets of fire where he meets surfer dude (Peter Fonda, still
mining his Easy Rider persona), 'Map to the Stars' Eddie (Steve Buscemi,
in fine weaselly form), the flesh merchant Surgeon General (Bruce Campbell) and
former comrade sex-change Hershe (a dubbed Pam Grier). None of the formless
episodes under-employing this gallery of gritty grotesques adds up to much, and
the tidal wave surf down Wilshire Boulevard - and the gladiatorial basketball
match to the death plumb - new depths of brainless stupidity.
With Russell's styrofoam Schwarzenegger - complete with Clint Eastwood rasp,
grating as never before - Carpenter's charmless monstrosity takes itself far too
seriously for its own good. The lack of humour, black or otherwise - aside from
the witty face-lift zombie section - is only one of the misguided creative
choices Carpenter (together with his co-writer/co-producer team of Russell and
Debra Hill) has seen fit to derail this potentially fun franchise. But then the
special effects work begs many awkward questions too. How did those awful matte
paintings got past the planning stages? Who's responsible for those terrible
CGIs, like the mini-sub and helicopter blades? Why are all the explosions so
boring? In fact, what was everyone thinking when they shot this 'microwaved
Inept and unexciting to a quite shocking degree, Escape From L.A. is
routine even by Carpenter's low standards of late. It hardly cuts together as a
cohesive whole - just watch the Yawnville rope-around-the-helicopter sequence
for how not to edit action - and... Oh, why bother going on? You get the
picture. It's just just a shame Carpenter did.