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John Carpenter's Escape From LA
Starring Kurt Russell,
Stacey Keach, Steve Buscemi, Peter Fonda,
George Corraface, Pam Grier, and Cliff Robertson
Directed by John Carpenter

Cranky, as always, does not make comparisons to source material, which in this case is John Carpenter's Escape from New York, made fifteen years ago.

Then again, JCEFNY was one of my favorite flicks all those years ago. As Snake Plissken, Kurt Russell effectively put the nail in the coffin of all the nice-guy roles he had played in Disney flicks. There was a beautiful woman (in that case Adrienne Barbeau), a colorful sidekick (Ernest Borgnine), outrageous sporting events, and a rescue involving a deadly virus and the President of the United States.

So it was kind of hard to sit down for JCEFLA knowing that I'd be seeing the return of Snake Plissken, a beautiful woman (in this case Valeria Golino), a colorful sidekick (Steve Buscemi), outrageous sporting events, and a rescue involving a deadly virus and the daughter of the President of the United States. Sounds like a carbon copy, right?

Well, virtually no one uses carbon paper anymore. We use Xerox (brand) copiers or their like. So try this. Take a copy. Copy it. Copy the copy. Do that again and again, copying the copy. You don't have to do it for fifteen years, just long enough to see that your original image has expanded greatly out of proportion.

Carpenter has accomplished a similar trick with Escape From LA, which blasts you with similar themes and then twists them out of relation to the original. It is, for all the blasting guns, explosions and (in some cases) soon-to-be-dead supporting characters, a very clever piece of work.

As JCEFLA begins, we are treated to a long narrative detailing the rise of a heavy-duty religious right-wing presidential candidate (Cliff Robertson) who, as the millennium year of 2000 approaches, predicts an apocalyptic earthquake in the sinful City of Los Angeles. Son-of-a-gun if it doesn't happen. Shortly thereafter, the newly elected President-for-Life declares the Island of Los Angeles is no longer to be a part of the USA. He orders the deportation of all moral criminals to the once luscious i le. Those criminals would include drug addicts, runaways, meat eaters, fur wearers, tobacco smokers, and those engaging in premarital sex. Of course "moral" in Earth-2 USA doesn't prevent the development of space-borne weapons which can selectively destroy all technology and blow the world back into the Stone Age. That's okey dokey.

Here's the catch. The President's daughter Utopia (A.J. Langer) has stolen the control device to said weapons and hijacked Air Force Three to Los Angeles, where she has become Number One Babe to the South American terrorist who runs the island, Cuervo Jones (George Corraface). Jones plans to lead an invasion of the mainland, and the control device is the weapon which will help him accomplish the goal.

Now enter the freshly captured Snake Plissken who, after being injected with a virus which promises to kill him in ten hours, is set loose in L.A. to recapture the device. There's a wee bit more background that should surprise and delight you, but I'm not about to give it away.

Snake will find an L.A. filled with women dressed like stereotypical hookers, and men in gang colors. He will wander into Beverly Hills, where too many years of bad plastic surgery have left shambling mockeries of human beings living inside what's left of the formerly elegant Beverly Hills Hotel. There, under the care of the Surgeon General of Beverly Hills (Bruce Campbell), they are subject to a constant grafting of new body parts to maintain their distorted appearance. Snake will play basketball the way no member of the Dream Team could. He will be shot at and drugged, and not once will he lose the sneer that is permanently set on his face.

The character actors have come out of the walls for this one, friends. Peter Fonda is here as the ultimate California surfin' dude. Pam Grier has the highest profile role she's had in years as Snake's old pal Hershe. Add the always-fun-to-watch Steve Buscemi as "Map to the Stars Eddie" in a slamming parody of a Hollywood agent, and some great sets, including the wreck of Mann's Chinese Theater, the Olympic Coliseum and various parts of Sunset Boulevard.

It's not as if the actors have their tongues set firmly in cheek, because they play it absolutely straight. The script, by Carpenter and producers Deborah Hill and Kurt Russell is so chock full of subversive humor that the audience I sat with laughed in all the right places. That is not to say we sympathize with Plissken or his plight. We don't. Well, Cranky didn't. JCEFLA is a simple, lightweight summer story that entertains. Period. Somewhere there's a film student who will do a thesis on the two Escape movies, but I'm long out of school. I went in with the hope and expectation that I'd enjoy myself. I did.

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price for John Carpenter's Escape from LA, he would have paid . . .


John Carpenter's Escape from LA is like the jimmies you put on top of ice cream. You don't need it. You can live without it, but the confection is so much better for it. Go and enjoy.

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