Hissssssstory Repeats Itself (St. Paul Pioneer Press/Aug 08/1996/US) By Chris Hewitt


When you go on vacation, you return with blurry photos and useless trinkets. When Kurt Russell goes on vacation, he returns with an idea for a $50 million movie.

"A couple years back, I was on vacation with Goldie and the kids,'' says Russell. "Goldie'' would be Goldie Hawn, with whom Russell has a famously unmarried 13-year relationship. "I had always thought about Pompeii, with this volcano they knew was going to erupt: Why did those people stay? So I told Goldie I wanted to go to Pompeii, and it turns out you could tell it was a really beautiful place. And there was lots of very well-done, artistic pornography. So I thought, 'I know why they stayed. There was a party going on in Pompeii. It was fun.'''

Pompeii got Russell thinking about Los Angeles and about the long-in-the-works Escape From L.A., which opens Friday. Since he and director John Carpenter made Escape From New York in 1980, they'd toyed with the idea of a sequel, but the trip to Pompeii helped Russell see parallels between that lava-prone city and present-day L.A.

"John Carpenter loves Los Angeles, but I don't love L.A., to be honest,'' Russell says with a chuckle. "I don't hate it, but I think any time you pull up to a stoplight and you don't know if you'll leave with your head still attached to your body, you gotta wonder whether you want to stay there.''

That idea - that Los Angeles has earthquakes and floods and crime, but it also has a sense of fun and excitement that keeps people there - became Escape From L.A. It's set in 2013, when L.A. has been turned into a prison colony, but people still love it.

"That's the thing. It's not a matter of if an earthquake is going to happen, it's when,'' says Russell. "But you stay there, because there's a lot going on there, because it's a lot of fun.''

The sequel retains the apocalyptic jokiness of the first movie, with lots of visual gags about blown-up L.A. landmarks. One target was especially meaningful to Russell: the Walt Disney Co., which gave him his first taste of stardom in movies such as The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes.

"In my original script idea for Escape From L.A., it was set in Disneyland,'' says Russell. "It was a cloning thing, and Snake was fighting a clone of himself, so I had me, Kurt Russell, with my Disney history, fighting against Kurt Russell on the It's a Small World ride. It kind of had a lot of levels to it.''

Russell flew the idea past the suits at Disney, who declared that Escape From L.A. could not be set in a world of laughter, a world of tears, a world of hopes and a world of fears. Russell got his digs in anyway - the final script includes a crack about the ill-starred EuroDisney theme park.

The actor has been making movies for 35 of his 45 years, and he points out - accurately - that he doesn't get credit for the wide variety of work he has done. There's the adult comedy of Swing Shift, the tense drama of Silkwood, the erotic romance of Tequila Sunrise and the thrills of this year's Executive Decision. What the roles have in common is Russell's they're-only-movies-folks sense of humor.

"It is true that I've had a weird career, with a weird assortment of characters, but I work damn hard. Whenever I do a part, whatever frame of mind the character is in, that's what I'm in,'' says Russell, explaining how he found the intense, eye-patch-wearing Snake Plissken, his character in the Escape movies. "But when I'm looking at the world through one eye, and I see a giant, bald-headed guy coming at me with a big pair of scissors, I think two things: 'I gotta get past this guy' and `God, this is funny.'''

Russell envisions a day when he won't do action movies anymore: "For now, I'm still physically able to do this stuff, but I like doing a drama or a comedy - Unlawful Entry or Captain Ron, even. So I'll probably gradually phase the action out, or I'll do what everybody else does. I'll make my stunt man do all the hard stuff.''

Or he'll turn to writing and producing. Doing both on Escape From L.A. enabled him to throw in jokes like a gladiator scene set at L.A. Coliseum, a reference to Russell's Pompeii trip that only he - and readers of this story - will get. One thing even he didn't get was the movie's plethora of phallic symbols. There are enough cacti, tubular spaceships and rounded spires to convince you that sometimes a cigar isn't just a cigar.

"I'm trying to think if John and I ever looked at each other and winked about it during the filming, but I don't think so,'' says a bemused Russell. "But it makes sense. Sometimes your subconscious is at play. Sometimes you do a movie and all this stuff comes out of you, but it's only when you look at it later that you think, 'Wow. That's what was going on.'''

So the question is obvious. Given that Snake is his favorite role, that Escape From New York is a hugely popular title on video and that the advance reviews on Escape From L.A. are strong, will there be an Escape From Somewhere Else? Russell says there's been only vague talk about another sequel, but he doesn't plan to slide into Snake's skin any time soon.

Even so, if you're a betting person, Escape From Earth is the title to put your money on.