Quick Movie Review: Escape From L.A. (1996)

escape from la

In 1996, 15 years was a long time between sequels. The ’90s saw a lot more smoothing out of narratives, which is one reason why many movies from that decade don’t seem so dated. In the ’80s and before, everything was a bit looser and contained a lot more visual exposition in genres where now, we’re not at all used to–like action films.

1981’s Escape From New York is a good movie, but it feels dry and disjointed at times. Escape From L.A. is just a lot more fun and easier to follow. We get more depth from Snake Plissken and see him actually care about something and someone.

Just like New York, Los Angeles has now turned into an autonomous prison where the inmates are left to fend for themselves. It’s 2013 and the president’s daughter steals her father’s doomsday device, which can rid any nation or region of the world of their technology at the press of a button. She takes it into the prison and gets it to a mastermind criminal who intends to use this device to threaten the US government if they try to stop him from taking over the country. The government hires Snake (Kurt Russell) to retrieve this device.

The president believes that anyone who is convicted of performing an immoral act must be banished to L.A. Which is basically how real life prison works–except in this movie, he puts people away for eating red meat or not having the same religious beliefs as he does.

Basically, as rough as it is inside the walls of the L.A. prison, at least they have true freedom–unlike life outside the prison walls. This gives Escape From L.A. more of a wild west feel.

At one point, the villain says, “This city can kill anybody.” I can’t help but feel like this is also a parallel to the real life Los Angeles. People come here to become something and fulfill their dreams, usually to find out that it doesn’t happen as easily as they thought, or may never happen at all. It defeats them and eats them alive.

But depth of story is nothing without depth of character. Plissken actually seems vulnerable, and even has a hopeless look on his face at times. He’s given someone to care about other than himself for once, and his own personal philosophies and growth are more realized.

The film gives us a lot of information at first, but doesn’t take long to become engaging. The action scenes are entertainingly ridiculous. There’s an actual sequence where Snake is surfing a 40-foot wave next to a cliff, and then jumps from the wave onto the back of a car that’s driving on the cliff. It’s cartoony and silly, but intentionally. Another scene that takes place inside a pseudo-replica of Disneyland is another charm.

Just like the first film, it creates this whole world within the city walls, yet this one expands on that and even makes it a little more fun and mysterious. Making us feel like there’s so much more we haven’t even seen yet.

Escape From L.A. is an improvement on its predecessor. The themes are much more relatable and timeless. Escape From New York acts as commentary on the Watergate scandal, whereas Escape From L.A. talks about the state that this country has always been in. It has an epic feel and an extremely memorable and rewarding finish.

Twizard Rating: 96


Quick Movie Review: Escape From New York (1981)

escape from new york

It’s a ballsy move making Escape From New York take place a mere 16 years into the future. In the film, the world has changed so much. Even by today’s standards. The United States government has turned Manhattan into a maximum security prison surrounded by giant 50-foot walls, due to a 400% increase in crime. There are no guards in the prison. The prisoners inside are left to the world they’ve created.

Air Force One has been hijacked, and the President’s escape pod crash lands inside the Manhattan prison, so the government hires one of its inmates, Snake Plisskin (Kurt Russell), to rescue the President in exchange for his pardoning.

Snake is pretty dry, and at one point we fear that we’re going to have to suffer through 90 minutes of his surliness. We watch a Kurt Russell movie because we want Kurt Russell. But this is like watching a Will Ferrell movie and getting Taylor Lautner with better acting.

Not only is he pretty void of emotion, but we get hardly any backstory on him or any of the other interesting characters. Just murmurings here and there, which ends up sounding like gibberish amidst the context of the film.

The way Russell says things should make them corny, but it never does. Early on we start forgetting that he sounds like Batman playing Clint Eastwood. Partially due to Russell’s acting, but also because the dialogue is so crisp.

A year early, this one feels like Blade Runner, but less brooding. It’s weird and deceptively goofy. Like the type of weird straight-to-video VHS tape that would have developed a cult following 30 years later. Only this was a mainstream hit.

The film isn’t as dated as it appears. Though some of the character decisions definitely are. I mean, you can’t get away with “forgetting the gun” as easily these days. But its unvarnished look is what gives it character. It feels more real than the likes of Blade Runner. Maybe it doesn’t have as much to say, but it definitely still says something.

The main bad guy within the prison, Duke (Isaac Hayes), is a crime boss who desperately wants to leverage the President for his own escape from prison. The hype around Duke is far more sinister than the character himself. They give him sinister things to say, but Hayes is just too cool to make them convincing.

Escape From New York is not quite as epic as it wants to be, but it’s not due to a fault in the impressively constructed universe. The sets are believable and you get a great feel for the suffocation of this prison. But it’s just a little dated and slow for an action film.

Twizard Rating: 82