Here Snake Comes To Save The Day (Orange County
Register/Aug 06/1996/US) By Barry Koltnow
The riots didn't do it. The Northridge
quake didn't do it. The brush fires didn't do it. The inevitable mudslides
didn't do it. The endless drive-by shootings didn't do it.
But O.J., that did it.
It was the O.J. Simpson episode that finally persuaded director John Carpenter
and actor Kurt Russell to use Los Angeles as the backdrop for their sequel to
the 1981 hit Escape From New York.
"We had been considering which city we were going to do the sequel in for 15
years, and over the years, Los Angeles was becoming a great city to escape
from," Russell said recently in his Los Angeles hotel suite.
"When O.J. hit the freeway - bingo. We knew we had it. L.A. had become the place
that was too weird not to mess with in a movie."
The movie, of course, is Escape From L.A., and its opening Friday had
been anxiously awaited by Snake Plisskin fans since the original action film
ascended to cult-hit status with the advent of the home video market.
Russell's Plisskin, a tougher-than-nails former military hero and now
everybody's favorite antihero, has a reputation for doing the impossible. Once
again, he is asked to save the day in this newest adventure.
In what amounts to a sendup of their original movie, Russell and Carpenter send
Plisskin into a no-man's land to rescue the president's daughter and a device
that can change the course of history.
The no-man's land is created when a 9.6 quake separates L.A. and Orange County
from the rest of the continent and turns it into an evil place filled with
gun-toting gang members, knife-wielding plastic surgeons and... well, now you
understand why they picked L.A.
In the futuristic original, Plisskin was sent into Manhattan - which had been
transformed into a penal colony - to locate and retrieve the kidnapped president
of the United States.
"In any sequel," Carpenter said, "the trick is to satisfy the audience's desire
for the same thing as the original, only different.
"We were always aware that most of our audience on this one probably never saw
the original, so we needed to invent this world all over again. At the same
time, we couldn't go too far or we'd alienate our fans from the original."
Russell, 45, said he and Carpenter, 48, have debated the wisdom of making a
sequel since the original but were not sure there was a demand for it. As the
original got more and more popular on video, the demand became clear.
"Not only was everyone talking about a sequel, but I wanted to play Snake
again," the burly actor said. "I like the character. He's one of a kind. He's
the last incorruptible man on Earth. He's the only character I've ever wanted to
Escape From L.A. is Russell's first foray into the treacherous world of
sequels, where wallets and egos are fattened but industry status is often
deflated. No one is more aware of this than Russell.
He started in films three decades ago as a child actor working in Disney movies,
managed to survive a rough period in the 1980s and now has risen to genuine
superstar status, commanding double-digit salaries (he reportedly got $10
million for this film and as much as $15 million for his next film, Breakdown).
That kind of change in status does not come by accident; Russell is not
embarrassed to admit that he sought this kind of attention and is proud that he
"In 1988, I had just completed a bunch of films, including Winter People,
Best of Times and Overboard (with longtime partner Goldie Hawn),
that had not done well at the box office," he explained.
"But I was happy in my life. I was doing the films I wanted to do and getting
paid $1.5 million for each one. That's a lot of money for a pure actor. I'll bet
I was the highest-paid pure actor in town. I knew they were hiring me as an
actor because I knew I wasn't being hired for my box-office appeal.
"Then, for no apparent reason, I decided that I might as well try for something
else. I just thought it was worth a try to align myself with some of the people
Hollywood thought so highly of, and maybe do something about my reputation as
Russell immediately aligned himself with director Robert Towne and stars Mel
Gibson and Michelle Pfeiffer in Tequila Sunrise. It worked. Then came
Tango & Cash with Sylvester Stallone, which made more than $200 million
"When Backdraft came out, it did $17 million the first weekend and was
considered a disappointment," Russell said. "I knew I had achieved my goal. If I
could be in a film that made $17 million and was still a disappointment, then
Hollywood must think highly of me."
The town really liked what it saw when Russell starred in the sci-fi movie
Stargate, - a surprise hit - anointing the pure actor as the newest action
With Escape From L.A. released and Breakdown completed, Russell
says he is doing something he has always wanted to do - retire.
Well, it's only an 18-month retirement, but he's serious about it.
"I was looking for one big payday, and then I wanted to take some time off to
live my life and spend time with my kids," he said. "I know this sounds like a
selfish thing to do, but I've paid my dues. I've earned the right to be
But don't fret, Kurt Russell fans. The guy's selfish, not stupid. The minute his
"retirement" ends in September 1997, he begins work on his next action film,