How Low Can You Go? (And Beyond) Anti-Hero (The Philadelphia Inquirer/Jul 05/1981/US) By Desmond Ryan

In John Carpenter's Escape From New York, which is based on the bizarre premise that by 1997 the island of Manhattan will be a maximum security prison to which hardened criminals are consigned for life, the hero is a man called Snake. According to Kurt Russell, who plays him with a bristling hostility, Snake is too mean even to be considered an anti-hero.

"Our idea of how he should be played was a little more existential," said the young actor who is best known for his portrayal of Elvis Presley in the television movie Elvis. "There's a different feel to him. He's not an anti-hero. A great anti-hero to me is Bogart in Casablanca. With an anti-hero you always find out before the end of the film what it is that's making the guy so caustic. In Escape you don't. He's sort of punk. He's not likable and he doesn't care."

The plot of the film has the president of the United States forced down on Manhattan and in the hands of the prisoners. A wall surrounds Manhattan and the bridges and tunnels are mined. Russell's character is sent to rescue the president. The film is a vision of the future in a realistic mold, Russell said.

"It's the future seen as a progression backward," he noted. "There are no laser beams. When people fight they do it with baseball bats with nails in them and crossbows."

Carpenter comes to this bleak vision of the future after trail-blazing success as director of the horror movies Halloween and The Fog. In seeing the future, they found one thing that didn't work, Russell reported.

"We wanted to have cigarettes that lit themselves, but we could never get it right," he said in an interview here. "We wanted to have something that would make people say here's 1997 and what a dumb thing to improve on."

The movie is scheduled to open next Friday.