Escape from New York

Aug. 16, 2010
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On one level, Escape from New York (1981) was a revenge fantasy for the sort of people who nowadays would affiliate themselves with the Tea Party. Set in futuristic 1997, the film (reissued in a DVD/Blu-ray set) imagines un-American Manhattan transformed into a giant Alcatraz for hardened criminals. The guards are stationed outside the prison zone; within, a confederacy of multi-ethnic street gangs, Morlock-looking subterraneans and a Village People cast of swishy villains have overrun Manhattan. Perhaps director-writer John Carpenter was being entirely ironic, given his use of Liberty Island as the forward command post for the militarized U.S. Police Force.

The screwy plot foresaw the future through a warped crystal ball. At the onset, a highjacked jetliner speeds toward the New York on a suicide run—but not a commercial plane piloted by Islamic terrorists. It’s Air Force One commandeered by homegrown leftists “in the name of the working class.” The weasily President (Donald Pleasence) ejects in an escape pod and falls into the hands of the comical gang lord, the Duke of New York (Isaac Hayes). Only a convicted criminal and renegade Special Ops veteran, Snake (Kurt Russell), has any chance of rescuing the President and making the world safe for what passes as democracy.

The SFX are plastic model variety, the future looks like Tron, the plot has too many holes to mention and the dialogue is best described as terse. Aside from moments of bizarre perversity, what makes the movie sort-of work is Kurt Russell. Under his three-day stubble and black eye patch, Russell executes a sneering, pitch-perfect make-my-day imitation of Clint Eastwood. By the way, the World Trade Center is one of the film’s settings. Still towering over Manhattan, it’s the place where Snake lands in his jet glider, ready to rock New York.

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