Review by J.T. Johnson
ORIGINAL RELEASE DATE: October 8, 1993
DIRECTOR: Marco Brambilla
CINEMATOGRAPHY: Alex Thomson
WRITERS: Daniel Waters, Robert Reneau, Peter M. Lenkov
MUSIC: Elliot Goldenthal
“Demolition Man” is a film that is so ridiculous that it really shouldn’t work as a film. Everything from the action to the special effects is terribly dated by today’s standards. Still, every time I watch this movie, I find that I like it even more than the last time I watched it. It’s central theme of two violent men out of time in a supposed utopia still works, but even the cheesy ‘90s action works to full effect.
This was back when action films could simply be action films. They didn’t have to have a particularly deep storyline and they weren’t made to be the start of a franchise or a shared universe. They were just made to provide a good time for you on the big screen and that was completely okay.
“Demolition Man” reminds me about why I love recent action flicks such as the “John Wick” films. I am an action junkie because sometimes, it’s just cool to watch a tough guy blow some shit up. Still, there has to be more reasons as to why this film works.
Before we get to that, though, here’s the rundown of the story. In 1996, Los Angeles has completely fallen into chaos.
I’m sorry, but before I go on, I must observe the fact that 1980s and ‘90s films containing a dystopian future always set their futures laughably close to their release. In 1981’s “Escape from New York”, everything was to go to hell in 1988 and the movie was set in 1997. In 1991’s “Terminator 2: Judgment Day”, Skynet was set to blow up the world in 1997. Apparently, the writers of these films didn’t think we would make it this long… Sorry, I’m rambling. Back to the review.
Anyway, the main man behind the chaos in ‘96 is Simon Phoenix (Wesley Snipes). Of course, there’s only cop crazy enough to go after him and that is Sergeant John Spartan (Sylvester Stallone). During one of their fights, Simon blows up a building and blames the deaths of 30 people on Spartan.
The two are then frozen in order to be paroled decades later. In 2032, Phoenix is thawed out for a parole hearing. He manages to escape and ends up in San Angeles, a utopian city that has almost no real crime. Knowing that they are ill-equipped to handle Phoenix on their own, the police force thaws out Spartan in order to catch Phoenix and he is partnered with Lt. Lenina Huxley (Sandra Bullock), a cop with an obsessive interest in the 20th century.
Before long, the action kicks it up a notch as both Spartan and Phoenix play their cat-and-mouse game. There’s more to the story than that, but for now, that’s all you really need to know. Yes, the action is fantastic, but that’s a given considering that this is a signature Stallone flick.
I think another aspect that works for this film are the stars and their supporting characters. Stallone is pretty much Stallone but at least he commits to the established action role that he’s pretty much played in every action film he’s ever done. Another delight in the movie is Snipes as Phoenix.
Snipes has a lot of fun playing Phoenix and it shows on the screen. He has about as many one liners as Stallone and he easily holds his own against the veteran action star. While none of the actors really take this story too seriously, Snipes truly makes this otherwise two dimensional villain jump off the screen.
Beyond the main stars are the supporting players. Before she truly made her name a year later in “Speed”, this was the first film where I remember seeing Sandra Bullock. She too has a lot of fun with the script and a good example of this is a running joke where she wrongly uses cliché statements such as “Kick some ass” and Stallone is always having to correct her.
There is also Denis Leary, a stand-up comedian who was really exploding at this time. He plays the leader of a group of underground dwellers who don’t quite believe in the perfect utopia that resides above them. Leary must have been told to be himself and for the sake of his role here, it really works and Leary makes his ironically named Edgar Friendly a truly memorable character.
The movie contains a fair bit of intentional humor, including Spartan not knowing how to use the three seashells after using the bathroom and the fact that Taco Bell took over every restaurant in the country. It even suggested that Arnold Schwarzenegger would eventually enter politics, something that came true ten years after the films release when Schwarzenegger became the governor of California in 2003.
Another aspect of the film is the fact that like other time travel films, it assumes that the ‘90s fashions would carry on into the future. This means that the utopia found in the movie contains futuristic clothes and buildings that don’t stray too far from the decade of the movie’s actual release. Like other films, such as “Back to the Future Part II”, this adds to the movie’s charm and somehow, it still works 24 years later.
The only real problem you might have with the movie is only dependent upon how you feel about ‘90s action films. If you don’t like those types of films, then you probably won’t like this one. However, if you’re like me, you can see the humor, the action, and the surprisingly strong performances that make up one of the most absurdly fun films from the 1990s.