The set-up for Escape from New York is so perfect. Manhattan Island is now a prison, run by the prisoners and a freak event causes the President of the United States to crash-land Air Force One right in the middle. This leads the Government to hire mercenary and criminal Snake Plissken to get him out. Oh, and Snake Plissken is played by Kurt Russell.
This should have been the easiest movie to write and create. This could have had the ultra-violence of Robocop, the bizarre future of a Brazil or Blade Runner or just the outlandish action of a Running Man. What John Carpenter delivers though is a dull movie which manages to waste every ounce of that fantastic set-up.
For starters, considering the film is just over 90 minutes long, it drags. For a film about gangs, has scenes with hand-to-hand combat and ends with what should be a great car chase to safety, it plods at a snails pace. There is no urgency to anything and each scene is filled with painfully written dialogue, which is either full of exposition or just random attempts to get these gangs to sound futuristic or “street.”
Carpenter has created a New York setting which should be a dangerous dystopia but aside from burning cars and derelict buildings, there is little to place this world in the future at all. There is little creativity too as the setting is just dimly lit, slightly wet streets where-ever our characters go.
With the budget low, maybe the action could make-up for it. This isn’t the case either though, as the action is as tame as can be. No major set-pieces, no great fire-fights and even the finale, which could have been as creative and exaggerated as you’d like, is simple and resolved with little consequence.
The biggest waste of all though is the cast themselves. Kurt Russell is a natural hero but here he gets corny lines, random moments and doesn’t live up to the cool name or the eyepatch. The villain is played by Isaac Hayes who gets very little to do and doesn’t get to be very menacing while the scenes between Russell and Lee Van Cleef are far too short and far too infrequent. With a cast this good, the film should have been naturally elevated but it does little to stop it being boring.
Overall, Escape from New York is about as big a waste of a great concept as you’ll get. Rather than a cool dystopian future setting for a violent and thrilling action movie you get a slow, under-funded action film with little actual action, no key set-pieces and a wasted cast.
Rating – 2
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