John Spartan, the Demolition man.
There's something so incredibly hard not to love about a film which opens on the war torn Los Angeles of distant 1996, complete with Hollywood sign fully ablaze. This year we come to the middle point between the release year of the film (1993) and the future depicted (2032) and while many of satirical predictions are unlikely to come to fruition, some of them seem downright prophetic. Schwarzenegger may not go on to become president and acquire his own library, but he did attain high political office (I wonder if this film created a self fulfilling prophecy; Planting the seen in Arnie's head?). A little more likely is the prohibition of items deemed bad for us: alcohol, tobacco, red meat, contact sports, cursing, and violent media. Still, with only twenty years between then and now, I don't foresee it happening (maybe tobacco). Self drive cars, however, are not too far over the horizon.
It's a bit of a bitter pill to swallow for me, accepting that Demolition Man is twenty this year. Being very much a product of an entirely different breed of action film, the bad guys are solidly defined, the violence is punctuated with quippy witticisms, and the comedy is full on blended into the mix. The 90's still allowed us to laugh one moment while showcasing careless violence the next. This is still alive today in the action film offspring of those old hands, but they come coated in the saturating grime of realism (for the most part). The second Expendables film went a long way toward reviving that late 80's/early 90's feel. Before I get overly nostalgia indulgent, let's circle back to the matter at hand.
Back when action flicks were crazy and bombastic, Wesley Snipes played the blonde haired, blue eyed psychopath Simon Phoenix. A lunatic so uncontrollably dangerous that when he escapes from cryoprison, the only recourse left to the future's muted, pacifist cops, is to thaw out the only man who was able to handle him, John Spartan (Stallone). A great deal of the hilarity is derived from the fish out of water tales of Spartan and Phoenix attempting to comprehend the very different world of San Angeles circa 2032. All restaurants are Taco bell in a world where meat and all things spicy are outlawed (let that soak around your frontal lobe for a second). Coitus has become a non contact sport. Cursing is fined automatically. And damn it all if the three sea shells aren't equally perplexing to both out hero and villain. It sure is a weird world that they've woken up to and are forced to do battle in.
It's certainly the most charming totalitarian existence ever depicted on screen. This won't stand, of course, and Spartan does his darnedest to demolish the whole thing so the underground resistance and the pacified norms can meet in the middle, at a hopefully logical point. Also on display are great early performances from Dennis Leary and Sandra Bullock. She's a tough cop with an unhealthy obsession for the past, who becomes Spartan's window to the future. Leary is the leader of the outlaw rebel faction, who unsurprisingly resembles his breakout stand up act No Cure For Cancer, and the protagonist of his hit song Asshole. The director even let's him indulge in a rant practically lifted from his act, but it works because Stallone stands there like the straight man during it, only to bark out one of the funnier lines in the flick.
Demolition Man works on several levels of entertainment. The foundation of solid action, with Stallone in his virile prime still and Snipes well on his way to Blade-dom, will keep the rapt attention of even the most demanding of old school violence fans. The humor hits on both a deep satirical level and on an obvious (without pandering) surface level with the excellent use of puns. The dialogue is punchy and infinitely quotable (the exact opposite of A Good Day to Die Hard). Most importantly, all of these parts combine like Voltron to form an enjoyable ride which rewards many repeat viewings. Much of the charm of watching more than once comes from the happy joy joy future which supposedly lies in store. Initially it seems to have been played way over the top, but careful examination yields truths very close to reality; that the criticisms of our society still reverberate today is a testament to it's smart writing. It's the mark of excellent satire.
Curiously the 2010 DVD from Warner Home Video is devoid of any kind of special features. Even my first printing DVD from 1999 has a commentary track attacked to it. You're much better of grabbing the 2011 Blu-ray, which offers the restored director commentary (it's priced reasonably on Amazon). Until next time be well, Maniacs.
Shock-O-Rama Screaming Saturday Night Double Feature
Sometimes you've got to let go of control, giving it over to someone else for the evening. All domination/submission allusions aside, let me program your Saturday night. This week's Screaming Saturday Night Double Feature is for all you Netflix members out there. I've cooked up a scorching double bill that will fill your night with fright, but take care to be in bed before the sun rises kiddies!
Quarantine 2: Terminal
This sequel to the American remake of the phenomenal [REC] is way better than the first half of this sentence would suggest. In fact, it's a smart zombie/infected film, which doesn't have to rely on character's making bonehead per decisions to advance the plot.
Continuing the zombie theme, we'll turn the camp factory all the way up for our later in the evening feature. Dead Snow is many parts Re-Animator, Evil Dead 2, and Outpost. It's thoroughly enjoyable. Have a big bowl of popcorn at the ready.
Don't forget to come back and let me know in the comments what your thought of these two back to back. And feel free to suggest next week's Screaming Saturday Double Feature service (Hulu, Netflix, etc.)
Chuck Francisco is a columnist and critic for Mania, writing Saturday's Shock-O-Rama, the weekly look into classic cult, horror and sci-fi. He is a co-curator of several repertoire film series at the world famousColonial Theatre in Phoenixville, PA. You can hear him drop nerd knowledge on weekly podcast You've Got Geek or think him a fool of a Took on Twitter.