Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Demolition Man (1993)

Schwarzenegger and Stallone were the titans of the action movie genre during the 1980s because both of them were muscular, spoke in impenetrable accents, and both served Regan-era America by killing drug dealers, ethnic criminals and evil communist in all of their films. I was more of a Schwarzenegger fan myself and as the early 1990s began, Schwarzenegger seemed to be the clear winner with sci-fi blockbuster epics like Total Recall and Terminator 2: Judgement Day, as well as more importantly ingratiating himself with mainstream America by branching out into comedy successfully, sending up his own screen image with director Ivan Reitman for Twins and Kindergarten Cop. However, Stallone’s attempts at showing he could do more than be Rocky and Rambo failed miserably with the John Landis mob comedy Oscar and the unrelentingly terrible Stop or My Mom Will Shoot! The end seemed nigh. Then Cliffhanger was a box office hit and there was relief for Sly. He then took a page out of Schwarzenegger’s playbook and made Demolition Man with producer Joel Silver, a film that combined science fiction and comedy to bullshit effect.

Opening like a cross between a James Bond film and Tim Burton’s Batman, the film throws us into the middle of an action climax where Los Angeles is a pitch-black war-zone as signified by the fact the Hollywood sign is on fire (APOCALYPSE IMMINENT!). We find our hero Sylvester Stallone, wearing a nifty Special Forces beret (taking a page out of the Steven Segal playback), zip-lining from the ass of a helicopter into a hostage situation where a crazy ass criminal played by Wesley Snipes has like forty civilians inside a building wired to explode. Stallone quips, “You’ve got to send a manic to catch a manic,” which is like a 1990s remix of that old Rambo maxim, “To win a war you’ve got to become a war.” Snipes doesn’t really have much of a character, just being a crazy dude. The main thing that distinguishes him is his Vanilla Ice hair-do (as my friend Adam remarked, “A black dude with white hair goes against the laws of nature”). Oh, and he’s also named Simon Phoenix so that someone later in the film can say with a straight face, “A Mr. Phoenix has risen from the ashes.” And before, I forget, Stallone’s character is called John Spartan, also satisfying bullshit action movie heroes with ridiculous surnames espousing their heroic character (up there with John Matrix from Commando). Back to the film where Stallone and Snipes kung fu each other around this smoke-filled building amongst tons of barrels with “C4” stamped on the front, which caused my friend Dan to state, “I wasn’t aware that C4 was a liquid?” Anyway, they both fall out of a window or something and the building EXPLODES, collapsing into rubble, following the template that Lethal Weapon 3 set, which is that if there’s a building about to be demolished in L.A., hold on everyone at City Planning and let Hollywood set its cameras up to catch that shit for their next outlandish action epic. Turns out the unseen hostages were killed on account of the explosion and the Police Chief yells at Stallone, “Try to remember a little thing they call Office Police Procedure” and is blamed for their deaths. So, we have Stallone playing Han Solo in The Empire Strikes Back, lowered into a cryogenic freezing device, which is how we decide to imprison people in the near-future of 1996.

Fast forward and its 2032, which is the future to us mere mortals, and the film proceeds to establish its main satirical thrust in imagining an ordered society where political correctness has gone mad! Yes, everyone wears Japanese-styled kimonos, sports strange vertical haircuts with the sideburns removed, and speak like robots with sentences like “Attitude readjustment... Info assimilated” or “the lack of stimulus is truly disappointing.” The do-gooders have had their way and everything is really peaceful and no one has been killed – sorry, Murder Death Killed as they call it in this movie – for over twenty years or something, which really does stagger belief in the idea that murders have been eliminated, even without a Pre-Cog System in place of preventative psychics floating in pools. Sandra Bullock plays a restless police officer who finds all this peace SO BORING and loves the 1990s as evidenced by the paraphernalia all over her office with a Lethal Weapon 3 poster and a Blood Sugar Sex Magic poster, causing Dan to remark, “This is such bullshit! No one in the future is going to have nostalgia for the 1990s!” Back to the plot, Snipes is let out of cryogenics but is able to speak Mexican and unlock codes and basically escape by killing everyone, even gouging out a scientist’s eyeball to pass a retinal scan in a sick twist. All the Future Police can do is watch on their security cameras as Snipes wastes everyone the 1990s way, which includes soundtracking his martial arts fighting with record scratches and ‘Bam’ horn samples, las if Terminator X from Public Enemy was hired to Mickey Mouse his every move (nice appropriation of black culture, Hollywood). Thankfully, Bill Cobb, a kindly old black cop remembers the good old days of the 1990s, remembering that maverick renegade they called ‘The Demolition Man’ and that they need ‘an old fashioned cop.’ So, they thaw out Stallone and he’s like ‘Take me to Planet Hollywood!’ but they are like ‘Sorry, your wife and everyone you knew is dead.’ Before Stallone can get too weepy, he remembers his old warrior instincts and hunts after Snipes across Muesuems that feature wings dedicated to Violence and Weapon stashes, all the while reacting to the madcap zaniness of the future where cigarettes are banned, sexual intercourse is relegated to virtual sexing, bad language is always being fined by ticketing sensors, and as my friend Dan remarked, “even their high fives have no balls!”

Demolition Man satisfies as a Joel Silver produced action flick as all the clich├ęs are in full swing from scenes being swathed in smoke machines for atmosphere, gratuitous female nudity (minimal really, but yeah Stallone gets a wrong number video call from a naked woman for no reason aside from showing some tits), people firing off handguns and machine guns with volcanic sound effects, and even corny one-liners. Our favourite was the pay-off to a running gag involving the farewell phrase that everyone in the future uses, which is “Be well.” Later in the film, Stallone realises that Cocteau (Nigel Williamson from Yes Minister), the leader of this Brave New World is duplicitous, having released Snipes/Phoenix in order to kill a dirty rebel leader who lives in the sewers, Edgar Friendly (Denis Leary). CONSPIRACIES OCCUR IN THE FUTURE. So they have one of those scenes where Stallone punches a lot of television screens and angrily accuses Cocteau of his evil-doings, but he’s the leader of this Brave New World and he tells Stallone that he’ll be hunted down by the police and put in cryogenics. Stallone, pissed, moves to leave.

Cocteau: “Be well.”
Stallone: “Be fucked.”

High fives for the screenwriters! They must have taken the day off after coming up with that spectacular punch-line. There is also obvious product placement masquerading as comedy where in the future fast food is now upscale cuisine with Cocteau asking Stallone to dinner at “Pizza Hut.” However, this was great as though his voice said “Pizza Hut”, his mouth clearly said something different, a really obvious example of ADR post-production overdubbing. Turns out it was originally Taco Bell as Adam explained to us after having done some pre-film research. They have a scene in the restaurant where the signs are replaced and there are two more examples of characters saying “Pizza Hut” while their mouths say “Taco Bell.” We all thought that it was because Taco Bell didn’t want to be associated with Demolition Man. Turns out it was more the fact that Pizza Hut had an international reputation while Taco Bell hadn’t quite hit the global market yet. Purchase your John Spartan and Simon Phoenix action figures next time you are at Pizza Hut, gang! (Note: sources inform that Pizza Hut and Taco Bell were owned by the same megacorporation so greedy capitalistic product placement wins again!)

What else do viewers have to contend with in Demolition Man? You have Rob Schneider during his SNL years being an annoying cop offsider. You have Sandra Bullock pre-Speed fame being quite attractive in her police leggings, well, the most I’ve ever found her potentially sexy. You have Sandra Bullock in awe of Stallone’s ability to kick ass with the line, “You’re better live than on LaserDisc.’ You have a silly virtual sexing sequence where Stallone gets angry that he was given a towel and computer headgear instead of being able to get physical. You have really sub-par Robocop-styled satire where things like commercial jingles are referred to as “golden oldies” by the air-head citizens of the future. You have a lame running joke where Sandra Bullock always incorrectly utters standard tough-guy lines into malapropisms like ‘You really licked his ass.’ You have another relic of the 1990s, Denis Leary, cast as a grimy resistance fighter who champions his cause in a speech that is basically his rant from the middle of his one-hit wonder ‘Asshole’ repeated for mass consumption. You have Jesse Ventura in a bit part as one of Snipes’ unfrozen henchmen and he is not given any dialogue in the film! INCORRECT, MOVIE! You’ve also got a car chase where Stallone drives off a bridge into some water and the car fills up with protective foam because it’s the future and that’s how airbags work now, and he quips, “What happened? This car suddenly turned into a cannoli!’ ZING. Anyway, fast forward to the end where Stallone sprays Snipes with some liquid nitrogen and karate kicks his head clean off. Then we hear a Sting cover of ‘Demolition Man’, which apparently was a song by The Police that this movie took its name from. End of movie. Yet, this exchange was often remembered when Schwarzenegger became Governor of California:

Lenina Huxley: I have, in fact, perused some newsreels in the Schwarzenegger Library, and the time that you took that car...
John Spartan: Hold it. The Schwarzenegger Library?
Lenina Huxley: Yes. The Schwarzenegger Presidential Library. Wasn't he an actor when you...?
John Spartan: Stop! He was President?
Lenina Huxley: Yes! Even though he was not born in this country, his popularity at the time caused the 61st Amendment which states...
John Spartan: I don't wanna know. President...


Mitch said...

This was one of the first M rated movies I saw in the cinema. I loved it at the time.

I like it how there were a few nods between Arnie and Sylvester over the course of a few movies in the 90's. Like in Twins with Arnie looking at the Stallone poster, feeling his biceps, then shaking his head and walking off.

tristan said...

Haha, yes. There's also the bit in Last Action Hero where in the world of Jack Slater - where Arnold Schwarzenegger doesn't exist - there's a poster for T2: Judgement Day replaced with Sylvester Stallone as the Terminator.

Janelle Mentesana said...

I saw this film at the cinema. how sad. i remember i enjoyed it.
nice write up fidler.
p.s whatever happen to snipes? is he in jail?