Escape From L.A.

* * 1/2*

This sequel to Escape From New York might not be as flashy as some of this summer's earlier action extravaganzas, but it sure packs an attitude. Sixteen years after Escape From New York, the United States has become a Fundamentalist Christian Dictatorship, run by a President-for-Life (Cliff Robertson). Los Angeles, now an island separated from North America during a disastrous earthquake, has become the deportation point for all the country's undesirables. When the president's daughter, Utopia, captures the controls to a superweapon and hijacks Air Force Three to Los Angeles, there's only one man to call. Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell) is captured by the government, and forced against his will to retrieve the superweapon before a genetically engineered virus kills him. So Snake ventures into the City of Angels, where he meets a bizaare and ecclectic group of the unwanted (including Peter Fonda, Steve Buscemi, Pam Grier and George Corraface). It's unclear whether director John Carpenter was aiming for the similar low-budget feel of his first Escape film, but whatever the case, that's the result. In comparison to the spectacular effects of Twister, Mission: Impossible, and Independence Day, the multiple blue-screen FX shots seem dated, and somewhat fake. I would tend to think that Carpenter was trying to achieve this result, since a few of the effects (some holograms, etc.) don't jar as much as others. Yet, his attempts to mimic Escape From New York don't end there. On several key points, the two films parallel. Both start with Snake captured by the authorities, because a member of the First Family is missing in a walled off city. Both films require Snake to achieve his goals in order to get an antidote to save his life. And the similarities continue, even down to a particular double-cross near the end. With all these similarities, at least John Carpenter got one thing right...the entire attitude of the film. Just like the original, the film has a great sense of fun with its home city, both with the landmarks, and the people who inhabit it. From the San Fernando Valley to Beverly Hills, from Universal Studios to the Magic Kingdom (oops..that's Happy Kingdom), the film has a great time envisioning what a 9.8 earthquake would do to all the hot spots of L.A. And then there are the Los Angelinos themselves...from the freakish hooded zombiesque hordes who have had too many plastic surgery jobs, to the gun toting aging surfers, to the roving gangs inflicting random violence. The film is creative in the details, even if it's simply a copy of its predecessor on the whole. Escape From L.A. never quite takes itself seriously. It begins with an outlandish sequence of events to explain how a President-for-Life got elected and L.A. became an island of the unwanted (never quite mentioning that Escape From New York takes place next year...the new film is set in 2013). Snake himself is the archetypical gruff hero, ala Eastwood, with monotone monosylabic grunts, a black leather outfit, and a bad attitude to spare. Don't expect to be dazzled or surprised by Escape From L.A. ...but you should have a good time.

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