Friday, August 20, 2010

"Demolition Man" (1993)

Starring Sylvester Stallone, Wesley Snipes and Sandra Bullock
Written by Daniel Waters, Robert Reneau and Peter Lenkov
Directed by Marco Brambilla

Sure, Sylvester Stallone has made better movies, but has he ever made one that's more pure fun than 1993's "Demolition Man"?  Probably not.

Stallone stars as John Spartan, a Los Angeles detective in the near future of 1996 (heh) on the trail of a vicious killer named Simon Phoenix (Wesley Snipes) who has kidnapped a commuter bus full of passengers.  Spartan corners Phoenix at his abandoned warehouse lair, and a fight ensues.  Phoenix burns the warehouse to the ground, and when the bodies of the commuter passengers are discovered in the wreckage, Spartan himself is brought up on manslaughter charges and sentenced to decades in a new "cryo-prison" - a system where a person is frozen for a length of time and rehabilitated through hypnotic suggestion.

Decades later, the world has changed a great deal.  Things which have been deemed "bad" for you are now illegal.  No more swearing, red meat, salt, kissing, sex, drugs, or violence.  The world has become peaceful and benevolent thanks to the "behavioral engineering" of Dr. Raymond Cocteau (Nigel Hawthorne) who oversees his empire, the region now known as San Angeles, with the air of a loving, but stern, father figure.

Unfortunately, beneath the surface, all is not as pleasant as it seems - the "scraps," groups of rebels living underground and led by the vulgar Edgar Friendly (Denis Leary) commit acts of vandalism and steal the food they need to get by, living their own "free" life away from Cocteau's nigh-fascist society above.  They might die of starvation, Friendly says, but at least they're free to eat and do and say as they please.

Into this semi-idyllic society comes the resurrected Simon Phoenix, released from his cryogenic imprisonment and set upon a murderous rampage to find and kill Friendly.  With the police woefully unprepared to handle such a dangerous criminal, Lt. Lenina Huxley (Sandra Bullock) revives John Spartan, the one man who could possibly hope to match Phoenix in this new era.  What follows is a cat and mouse game with a bit of investigation thrown in, littered with hilarious one-liners and satire and fun, energetic action sequences as Spartan and Phoenix clash, tearing the paradise of San Angeles apart around them.

Stallone handles the fish-out-of-water aspects of his character just as well as he does the fights and chases that he's so widely known for.  Spartan's anachronistic feelings and impulses are mined for a great deal of comedy, bouncing off other game cast members.  A lot of his reactions to things he doesn't understand in the future, and his quick thinking in handling new situations, are golden.  When he can't figure out how to use the "three seashells" that have replaced toilet paper, he simply swears into the computer so that it will print out violation tickets for him to use.  He has fine chemistry with Sandra Bullock, who does fine enough with Huxley, playing her as enthusiastic but naive.  A running gag where she gets common catchphrases wrong (often turning them into dirty sexual double entendres without realizing it) is a hoot.  Even Rob Schneider doesn't outstay his welcome as a police dispatch officer who taunts Spartan for not knowing how to go to the bathroom in the future.  Benjamin Bratt also appears as another enthusiastic officer, Garcia, who has an affinity for old radio commercial jingles.  Denis Leary as Friendly gets a fantastic scene where he lays out exactly why he would rather live in the sewers than in the "paradise" above.

Snipes is clearly having a blast.  His Simon Phoenix is a man who gets utter joy out of causing mayhem and destruction, and does so with a ridiculous sense of glee.  As a villain, he's not menacing, per se, but rather he causes so much chaos around him that he becomes effective.  In terms of characterization, he's essentially a murderous clown.  But since nothing else in this movie takes itself too seriously, all this does is add to the fun. 

The world constructed in "Demolition Man" is a lot of fun.  Small bits sprinkled here and there give the place character, and add to the fun.  Hilarious bits like having Taco Bell win the "franchise wars" to become the only restaurant, or computerized instructions for the police that constantly refer to perps as "maniacs", to the most popular radio station in the city being one that only plays old commercial jingles... well, it's all tongue-in-cheek fun.

But none of this would matter if the other half of the film didn't work.  Thankfully, there are a number of great action sequences to hold up this flick.  Car chases, gun and fist fights, none of which get old or boring.  The locations and setups for each fight are different, which each one throwing something new out there for the audience.  Stallone and Snipes are at the top of their game for their fights, and even Bullock gets in a few solid kicks and punches.

"Demolition Man" is fun from start to finish.  With lots of hilarious comedy and great action, this one is easy to recommend.  I've seen it a number of times now, and it only seems to get better with age.