Escape From LA (1996) Review


Directed by John Carpenter and starring Kurt Russell & Steve Buscemi

By Max Brown and Luke Gentle

Staff Writers

Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures

Kurt Russell and John Carpenter are the star and director duo behind some of your favorite ’80s action movies, including “The Thing,” “Big Trouble in Little China,” and, of course, “Escape From New York.”

For those unfamiliar with “Escape From New York,” it looks at an alternative future in which crime in America has gotten so severe that the entirety of Manhattan is turned into a prison island. When the president’s plane crash-lands in New York, Snake Plissken played by Russel, a decorated soldier turned criminal must go into the prison and rescue the president from marauders in exchange for amnesty.

Despite having nearly 10 times the budget of the original and a more star-filled cast than the original, “Escape From LA” fails as a sequel. The attempts by Carpenter to create a mainstream action film alienate fans of the low-budget appeal of the originals while also failing to break into the everyday audiences.

The updated special effects feel forced and age horribly.

The film breaks no new ground, retreading almost the exact same plot as the first one with some scatter-minded political commentary thrown in. The only way that this film can be enjoyed is by powering down your brain and laughing at how ridiculous everything is.

The film begins with an almost 10 minute opening sequence filling us in on what happened since “Escape From New York.” 

The U.S. president, who looks like an MSNBC viewer’s idea of a Republican, calls upon God to smite the sinful ruin of Los Angeles. An earthquake devastates the city and breaks it off from the mainland. Seeing this as a sign, the president turns the island into a second prison colony, and criminalizes everything even remotely entertaining, sending his moral criminals to LA.

Steve Buscemi’s character, “Map to the Stars Eddie” (The After Movie Diner)

The president’s daughter, Utopia, comes into contact with a Che Guevara lookalike living in LA named Cuervo Jones. Seduced by his anti-establishment attitude, she sneaks into LA with the codes for the president’s space-based doomsday weapon. Snake, being sent to LA for smuggling arms, is poisoned by the president’s men and given a choice: infiltrate LA and find the codes in exchange from amnesty and the antidote.

The main problem I have with “Escape From LA” is the suspension of disbelief.

Let’s be honest. The whole concept of “Escape From New York” is just stupid. Instead of turning a global hub that the world’s economy is dependent on into a prison, why not use an uninhabited island like in “Shutter Island?” The answer, of course, is that it would make the movie much more boring.

With “Escape From New York,” though, I was able to suspend my disbelief, which I was absolutely unable to do with LA.

In New York, I remember being legitimately nervous at the scene with the roving cannibals. In LA,

they try to up the shock value by putting Bruce Campbell in as a demented plastic surgeon and it doesn’t work, whether used as a horror trope or as commentary on plastic surgery.

The Che Guevara lookalike, played by Georges Corroface (Aveleyman)


Part of the reason suspension of disbelief is impossible is that the political messages are so ham-fisted and obvious that they pull me out every time they’re on screen. The Che Guevara lookalike belongs on a t-shirt in Hot Topic, not in any serious political satire.

Another problem is the over-the-top, campy scenes.

At one point, Snake is forced to shoot 5 free throws in a minute to save his life from Cuervo Jones. In another, he’s surfing a tidal wave to catch Steve Buscemi’s character. In another, Cuervo Jones gets shot through the heart and actually looks down at his wound, accurately fires a rocket launcher at Snake’s helicopter, and grins at him evilly before finally dying.

Surfs’ Up! (The Chiaroscuro Coalition)

It’s just impossible to take seriously in any context. I’d say that Carpenter was trying to make a campy, over the top movie, but the political satire indicates that he wasn’t. This film is actually very enjoyable, but only if watched for the sole purpose of seeing a shlock-fest for the ages.

Graphic made by Luke Gentle

Due to its incoherent political message, absurd scenario, complete and utter failure to suspend our disbelief, but unintentional comedy, this film earns 2.5 B-balls out of 10.