Killer Snake Hits L.A.
In 1981 John Carpenter gave us "Escape from New York" and introduced us to Snake Plissken and whilst I wasn't a huge fan of the movie what he did on an estimated budget of $6,000,000 was good. A decade and half later and John Carpenter gives us the sequel "Escape from L.A." a much bigger budget production which sees Snake Plissken return. But the thing is that whilst we have a bigger budget and a change of town "Escape from L.A." is basically a remake of "Escape from New York", it has a similar storyline which revolves around Snake being sent into L.A. which is now an island full of the unwanted and retrieving something before time runs out. And so what this really means is whether or not Carpenter's movie is better with more money lavished on it or not? Ironically it is neither better nor worse with something's improving and other things sadly disappointing.
The year is 2013 and after an earthquake causes L.A. to become an island the new President (Cliff Robertson - Spider-Man 3) makes it a home for all those who do not fit into his new moral code, an island full of undesirables with no law and order. But when the President's daughter steals a top secret device and makes her way on tot he island and to Cuervo Jones (Georges Corraface) they are forced into persuading Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell - Executive Decision) to go on to the island and recover the device before it is too late.
So as already pointed out "Escape from L.A." is little more than a remake of "Escape from New York" and as such follows pretty much the same story. We do have the fun intro which establishes what has happened in the years since Plissken went into New York, an earthquake has turned L.A. into an island, a very moralistic President is now in charge and all those low life's are either shipped to L.A. or executed. And then we get the storyline with the President's daughter stealing a top secret weapon and taking it to the Island as part of some evil plan hatched by Cuervo Jones. What this really means is that whilst there are some slight differences the storyline is all about Snake being forced into going to the island and retrieving this top secret weapon before times run out.
Now some of the changes which come with a bigger budget certainly work and the L.A. setting is stunning with various landmarks wrecked by fighting, arson and earthquakes. It makes it feel more like a movie of the future and some of the special effects such as the submarine which Snake uses to get to the island are terrific. But at the same time some of the indulgences which a big budget offers don't work and in trying to make some of the special effects driven action look spectacular Carpenter goes a little too far and makes it look fake. Maybe it was intentional because "Escape from L.A." is a little tongue in cheek so watching Snake surf with a dude called Pipeline, played by Peter Fonda, is comical if also cheesy.
But the thing which is wrong about "Escape from L.A." is that it lacks atmosphere which may have something to do with it being little more than a remake and so familiarity has an adverse effect. Where as the first time around we felt that Snake was in a dangerous place in New York this time that danger, the darkness of the low life's and the threat of time running out never really manifests itself. Maybe it was because Carpenter was trying to make "Escape from L.A." more tongue in cheek, maybe having more money to spend meant focus got switched from the story to the big action scenes. I don't know what the exact reason is but something has been lost this time around.
What certainly hasn't gone missing is Kurt Russell who a decade and a half after first playing Snake Plissken is as good as ever. With the Eastwood whispering growl, his total hate of authority and his scar covered body he is still an entertaining hero to follow. But unfortunately Russell can't carry the movie on his own and whilst there are plenty of cameo performances from the likes of Peter Fonda, Steve Buscemi, Valeria Golino and Stacy Keach they end up being underused. The exception is Cliff Robertson who gives a brilliant performance as the new President whose religious morals are so easily compromised.
What this all boils down to is that as sequels go "Escape from L.A." is no better or worse than "Escape from New York". But having said that thee are elements which are better whilst others are worse and whilst the action is more impressive along with some of the special effects it lacks the atmosphere which was created the first time around.