Escape from L.A.

Snake Plissken is back. It's Been 15 years since Kurt Russell seized the role of his career as the hard-assed outlaw with an eye patch in Escape From New York. That futuristic cult item, set in a 1997 Manhattan imagined as a maximum-security prison, was also directed by John Carpenter. The gifted auteur of Halloween, Dark Star and Assault on Precinct 13 didn't have the clout to get his name into the title back then. Now he does, which is pretty funny. With the exceptions of Starman and They Live, Carpenter hasn't directed anything since Escape with his former B-movie vitality.

The sequel, written by Carpenter, Russell and producer Debra Hill, is also wicked fun. Location aside, it's practically the same movie. In 2013, L.A. is ravaged by earthquakes, riots and mudslides, the entertainment industry is kaput, and any land that isn't underwater is in the hands of revolutionaries whom the priggish president. (Cliff Robertson) wants to crush.

Snake's mission impossible, which he decides to accept because the villains will kill him with a virus in 10 hours if he refuses, is to sneak into L.A. via submarine and bring back the doomsday box that the prez's daughter (A.J. Langer) has stolen for her rebel lover (George Corraface).

Plot isn't the point -- it's the stunts and the sights, notably the cosmetic-surgery casualties who take over the Beverly Hills Hotel. The bracingly eccentric characters include Peter Fonda as an aging surfer who rides a tsunami wave down Wilshire Boulevard and Steve Buscemi as a hawker of maps to the stars' wrecked homes. Still, it's Russell's show. The name Snake Plissken is evoked constantly -- more than Keyser Soze in The Usual Suspects. In New York people told Snake, "I thought you were dead." In L.A. they say, "I thought you'd be taller." The Snake Plissken cult lives. Don't try to figure it out. Just enjoy.

From The Archives Issue 742: September 5, 1996
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