Monday, 24 March 2014

Escape from New York (1981)

There's little doubt that Escape from New York is a pretty bad film. It's got 'low rent' written all over it, from the nutty premise to the wildly implausible opening narration and on through the utterly incongruous synthpop intro music to the 'George Michael goes punk' appearance of its hero. While Kurt Russell ultimately proves pretty good in the role, the first appearance of Snake Plissken on screen always gives me the giggles. Despite - or perhaps because of - the rampant silliness on display, I like the movie.

So the film begins by explaining to us that an explosion in the US crime rate led to the establishment of the entirety of Manhattan island as a maximum security prison, with a 50-foot high wall around it. Only prisoners go in, and nothing comes out. Because 'turn the most expensive real estate into the country into a prison' is the kind of thing that happens in this sort of picture. No way we could put a prison somewhere it wouldn't require 12 million people to move. Anyway, by means no-one will bother to explain, a lone terrorist seizes control of Air Force 1 and crashlands it inside this little amusement park. The president survives in his escape pod, but is quickly snatched by the criminals and hidden away.

Enter 'Snake' Plissken, ex-special forces operative turned criminal. He was just about to be sent into Manhattan Island prison and now he's offered a deal: rescue the president within 24 hours, and get a full pardon. Snake, having at least two brain cells to rub together, agrees. This launches an amusingly offbeat mission into the ruinous city-prison, where Snake will encounter - sometimes peacefully but more often otherwise - its many zany inhabitants. As a pro-wrestling nerd, Ox Baker's appearance as 'Slag' is a particular treat.

A strong cast really helps this film, with Harry Dean Stanton and Donald Pleasance in particular both doing very good work. Perhaps even more important is the irreverent and rebellious tone that it has. This is most definitely a film that doesn't put much stock in the authorities (unsurprising when you consider that the script was originally written as a response to the Watergate scandal).

Not a sensible film. Not even really a 'good' one, in many ways. But the cast commits to it, the script doesn't take itself too seriously, and it has just the right amount of attitude to strike a chord with a youthful audience. And also with middle-aged nerds, it seems!

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