Escapist Entertainment (Winnipeg Free Press/Aug 08/1996/CA) By Lindor Reynolds

Imagine a world where it's illegal to smoke, to eat red meat, to marry without government approval or to opt out of organized religion.

No, it's not Wolseley.

Welcome to the future of L.A., as seen through the cynical eyes of filmmaker John Carpenter.

"The 20th century is the bloodiest century in the history of mankind," said Carpenter at a studio-sponsered interview session, which the Free Press attended.

"Black churches are being burned in the south. People are denying the Holocaust. We've got pure American fascism. I have to wonder why we're so willing to give up freedom for authority."

Carpenter thumbs his nose at that authority in Escape From L.A., a sequel to his 1981 classic Escape From New York. The movie opens in Winnipeg tomorrow.

Kurt Russell reprises the role of Snake Plissken, a brutal and violent man whose only interest is his own well-being.

"I think Snake is truly an underground figure, a cult figure," said a relaxed and tanned Russell during an early-morning interview.

"In 1980, when we were doing the first movie, the studio was understandably concerned," Russell said.

The original, set in 1997, had New York as a degenerate penal colony, with Plissken forced to rescue the U.S. president, whose airplane had crashed inside city walls.

"The lead character had no socially redeemable qualities. He didn't have a wife and children who were burned at the beginning of the movie to justify why he behaves the way he does."

The actor, the longtime companion of actress Goldie Hawn, still owns his original Snake Plissken costume, the only movie outfit he ever kept.

"I wore it at the beginning of Escape From L.A. I don't know why I kept it," Russell said. "Goldie and I have moved a lot, but I always kept that costume."

Russell said Plissken is, in his own way, a man of honour.

Carpenter said that while other movies have tried to copy Escape From New York's premise and attitude, none has succeeded.

"What none of these other films have is the attitude of the hero. Most action films are very patriotic. Our hero is a psychopath. He doesn't care about you. He's incorruptible."

Escape From L.A. is set in the year 2015. Los Angeles has been destroyed by an earthquake, leaving a ravaged city surrounded by water. A moralistic president for life (Cliff Robertson) controls the United States and deports "undesirables" to Los Angeles.

The president's daughter, Utopia (A.J. Langer), rebels against dad's authority, steals the key to a doomsday device that could toss the United States back into the dark ages and heads to L.A. to take up with the despotic army leader who controls the new island.

Plissken's job, if he wants to live another 24 hours, is to get the device back.

It's the same basic premise that Carpenter used in Escape From New York, Snake Plissken versus the authorities, outlaw versus law, indifferent versus evil.

"I have this hatred of authority," Carpenter said, admitting that he and Snake Plissken bear more than a passing resemblance to one another.

"In our story, America has become like Russia in the 1950s. I don't want to live there."

Carpenter, Russell and producer Debra Hill were convinced that audiences would want to see the sequel to a 15-year-old movie.

"We'd been talking about it for years," said Russell. "Then the (1994) earthquake hit, a bunch of other catastrophes happened in California and then O.J. hit the freeway. Man, we had to make this movie."

Hill wrote and produced Halloween with Carpenter and was once involved romantically with the filmmaker. She said making this sequel was "so much fun, just hanging out with John and Kurt."

The sequel has much more humour and political satire than the original, she said.

"I think the movie addresses everything from the right to the left. We have the government deporting anyone who believes in freedom and religion," Hill said.

Carpenter said he tried to make a movie that would appeal to audiences who had seen the original, but would also stand alone for younger film-goers.

The filmmaker, who has directed such films as The Fog, Starman and The Thing, delighted in skewering Los Angeles and its obsessions with wealth, beauty and success.

The movie's climatic, blow-'em-up-real-good scene takes place in the wreckage of Happyland, a thinly veiled poke at Disneyland.

Carpenter says the United States in general, and Los Angeles in particular, may be heading for devastation.

"We have visited upon us a lot of catastrophes in the past few years, the biggest riot in U.S. history, earthquake, every year our hills catch on fire.

"It's the greatest place to live. I wouldn't want to move, and yet I know it's inevitable that the hammer of God will one day strike this place and devastate it. But I'm still sitting by the pool so I must be in heavy denial."

Carpenter, Russell and Hill all hinted a third Escape movie is likely.

"I think we'd have to do Escape From Earth," Russell said.