'Escape from L.A.' is inescapably bad Review: John Carpenter's post-apocalypse adventure starring Kurt Russell has nothing to recommend it.

August 09, 1996|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,SUN FILM CRITIC

About halfway through "Escape from L.A." I began to contemplate an escape from the theater. No more of Kurt Russell's ersatz-Eastwood voice and minimalist, whiskery acting, no more cheesy sets plunking Hollywood and Vine down on a computer-generated field of ruin, no more wondering if poor Cliff Robertson's facelift would give way, depositing the man in his early '70s, where he belongs and should be proud to be.

Best of all, no more John Carpenter, self-important auteur (the correct name of the picture is "John Carpenter's Escape from L.A.," as if!) with no talent for story construction, none for working with actors, and still less for nailing together action sequences.

But I stuck it out, because, darn it, that's the kind of guy I am.

The movie, a sequel of sorts to "Escape from New York" of 16 years past, again follows Russell's grizzled Snake Plisskin, the one-eyed ex-Green Beret whose penchant for violence has made him a star in collapsed America. This time, not only has the culture collapsed but so has the continent itself, with the result that it's an eternal very bad day in 90210: L.A. has broken off from the mainland and become an isle of wreckage and exile where all the bad Americans are sent.

The right-wing president's screwball daughter has shown up there with a TV remote that actually gives her control of a satellite system that can electromagnetic pulse the planet back to the dark ages. Thus, once again, Snake is bluffed into going into the zone of destruction and fetching it -- she's merely an afterthought.

So once again he wanders ruined alleys and cheap back lots and has run-ins with bad actors in bad makeup. Peter Fonda never could act and he still gets work? Clumsy gunfights break out every once in a while, and when Carpenter gets bored with his lagging, going-nowhere plot, he throws in a game of pick-up basketball to the death.

What's the point? George Miller so totally nailed this post-apocalyptic world in his great "Road Warrior" that even all these years later, revisits to the concept seem cheesy and futile. They are. Almost nothing works in this story, but almost nothing works worse than the story itself, which merely follows Plisskin as he roams with no coherent plan and simply bumps into the right people at the right time.

The movie is more helpful as therapy for all of us who deeply hate L.A. and do in fact wish it would wash away into the sea than it is as entertainment.

"Escape from L.A."

Starring Kurt Russell and Cliff Robertson

Directed by John Carpenter

Released by Paramount

Rated R (Violence, some nudity)

Sun score **

Pub Date: 8/09/96

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