Escape from L.A. (1996) – Directed by John Carpenter – Starring Kurt Russell, Stacy Keach, Steve Buscemi, Peter Fonda, Georges Corraface, Cliff Robertson, Valeria Golina, Pam Grier, Michelle Forbes, Bruce Campbell, A.J. Langer, Leland Orser, Robert Carradine, and Breckin Meyer.
I think it’s a cinematic crime we don’t have at least 8 Snake Plissken movies.
That’s not to say ESCAPE FROM L.A. is perfect, because it’s anything but perfect (or close to perfect, or close to close to perfect), but there’s plenty of enjoyment to be had from watching Kurt Russell walk around a dystopian Los Angeles shooting things and grunting threatening pronouncements.
In the context of dystopian films, ESCAPE FROM LA has the visual misfortunate to have been created in the 1990s, thus allowing it neither the coolness factor of being made in the ’70s nor the benefits of being a contemporary film. The result is an odd look; where the original ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK has that late ’70s sci-fi vibe to it, and a movie like Doomsday or 28 Days Later can pull off a more realistic look, L.A. just feels phony. Where the first film made me feel like Snake was being dropped into a real place, this time around it feels like Snake has walked onto a movie set.
The great thing about most of John Carpenter’s ’70s/early ’80s work is that his worlds and characters always felt real. Whether that was a product of the time or Carpenter being forced to get creative with his budget, I believed in those places. In L.A., the budget isn’t a problem but the result is disappointing, as if the extra money went for things that aren’t important: a better car for the bad guy to drive around in, nicer clothes for Snake to wear, and more names in the cast.
I get that it’s cool to see Peter Fonda, Pam Grier, and Bruce Campbell in throwaway roles, but none of them really add anything of import to the film.
It’s been a long time since New York and Snake (Russell) conveniently gets captured just when the government needs him again. The President’s daughter (A.J. Langer) has been seduced by rebel leader Cuervo Jones (Georges Carraface) into giving him the control device for a secret government, and they want to send Snake in to get the control device. The President (Cliff Robertson) is super right-wing and doesn’t give a crap about his daughter. Snake doesn’t want to do it, of course, because he’s a grumpy bad-ass (still wearing his Zubaz pants), but they drug him and tell him he’s got 24 hours to get the antidote from them or he’ll die.
Because we can’t have a movie without Snake accepting, Snake takes a one-person submersible into L.A., and then has a series of dystopian vignettes on his way to get the control device.
None of the scenes are anything spectacular, and the fun in watching them comes as much from going, “Oh, look, Steve Buscemi,” “Hey, what’s up, Uncle Ben? Does May know your daughter was on My So Called Life?,” “Is that Bruce Campbell under all those prosthetics?,” and “Oh, look, that woman from Big Top Pee Wee-slash-Hot Shots-slash-Rain Man!” as it does from anything that happens. As I mentioned, it doesn’t feel like Snake is actually walking across L.A. but from Soundstage 4 to Soundstage 5.
Truthfully, few of the actors here (as fine as they are) really hit the right vibe for a movie like ESCAPE FROM L.A. Luckily, Kurt Russell does, and it’s Russell’s total commitment to playing Snake that makes L.A. an enjoyable watch.
Enjoyable but forgettable. There’s nothing here that sticks with me. I wish it were better. I wish there were more Plissken movies so I could say, “ESCAPE FROM L.A. is enjoyable but forgettable, and given the existence of 7 other Plissken movies, I don’t know why I’d choose to watch this one, again. But there aren’t, so I’ll probably watch this film a bunch more.
Heck, what I really want in lieu of more films would be to spend the next year writing 7 Plissken novels.
Addendum: I’ve read and re-read this review a few times now and while I’m not very happy with it, I really don’t know what to do with it. As I like to say, I write reactions more than reviews, so what I end up talking about here at the Anxiety is whatever a film creates in me as a reaction, and every so often you get a film like ESCAPE FROM L.A. that’s biggest reaction is little more than a collective shrug.
There are much better John Carpenter movies. There are much better Kurt Russell movies. There are much better Steve Buscemi movies, Peter Fonda movies, Pam Grier movies, Cliff Robertson, Valeria Golina, Bruce Campbell, Robert Carradine, and Breckin Meyer movies. There are much better dystopian movies.
There’s a better Snake Plissken movie.