Demolition Man (1993) / Action-Sci Fi

MPAA Rated: R for strong violence, brief nudity, language, and a scene of drug use
Running time: 115 min

Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Wesley Snipes, Sandra Bullock, Nigel Hawthorne, Benjamin Bratt, Bob Gunton, Denis Leary, Rob Schneider, Glenn Shadix, Bill Cobbs
Cameo: Jesse Ventura, Jack Black, Dan Cortese
Director: Marco Brambilla

Screenplay: Daniel Waters, Robert Reneau, Peter M. Lemkov
Review published August 22, 2008

Demolition Man starts off in Los Angeles's near future of 1996, where crime has run rampant.  It takes someone ruthless to catch ruthless criminals, and that man is super-cop John Spartan (Stallone, Rocky V), whose take-no-prisoners attitude when it comes to apprehending the culprits of heinous crimes has earned him the apt nickname, "The Demolition Man."  His biggest bust is the psychopathic Simon Phoenix (Snipes, Jungle Fever), but in his attempt to save hostages taken by Simon, he walks into a trap whereby Phoenix frames him for carelessly disregarding their wellbeing in his pursuit of the collar.  To take these violent men out of the mix, society has deemed it appropriate to put the worst offenders into cryogenic chambers, where they will be out of the way for good.

The year 2032 brings about the release of Phoenix from his chamber for reasons that aren't readily apparent.  It seems while he was out of commission, he learned quite a few skills that makes him a whiz with computers, in addition to enhanced agility and strength.  However, Los Angeles, now a vice-less, politically correct megalopolis called San Angeles, is unprepared for the criminal element, completely redesigned from the ground up to be a happy place where the police only bust people for minor infractions, despite the presence of underground terrorists.  Phoenix has no problems taking out groups of police at a time, leaving the city's savior and father figure, Dr. Raymond Cocteau (Hawthorne, Murder in Mind) little choice but to get a cop who can match up against the likes of Phoenix, John Spartan. 

Despite a few decent chuckles along the way, Demolition Man is mostly simplistic science fiction comic book style junk cinema with two dynamic stars of the period chewing up the scenery.  Implausibility runs rampant throughout, starting off with a very illogical main premise of a good-guy cop being given the same sentence as the criminal who killed many innocent civilians merely on the word of that same lying criminal.  There is little plausible reason why dangerous criminals would be put into cryogenic chambers.  Sure, it does take them out of society, but they are merely being preserved in order to be released, one assumes, at a later date.  To them, it's just like a trip to the future, not a day older than when they were first put on ice, and with their conditioning, they are much more skilled.  Seems like a sweet deal considering how terrible the world of 1996 is depicted.  I'd want to fast forward myself.

It lacks the satire of other efforts in those years, such as Total Recall and the like, but it works at times enough as a comedy.  2032 is a candy-ass version of a futuristic society, where every restaurant is Taco Bell (in one of the most egregious instances of product placement I can think of), every song on the radio is a commercial jingle (more product placement), bathrooms use a contraption with three shells in place of the old roll of toilet paper, and sex is limited to people sending electronic feelings of eroticism to one another (the internet isn't too far off in this respect).  Demerits are given for those who use improper language, resulting is recurring gags where Spartan gets into trouble

Although the direction by first-timer Marco Brambilla (Excess Baggage) isn't anything more than workmanlike, at least he sets up the tone early enough so that the film is able to keep its tenuous balance between ultra violence and comicality throughout.  Stallone is his usual iconic self, always treading the line between deadly serious and not serious at all in the way only he can.  Snipes goes way over the top in his performance as the bad guy, trying to top Nicholson in Batman for most outlandish cackling villain.  Despite a good deal of thought in the mundane qualities of life in the future, the film itself is thinly held together, relying on constant distractions and gunfire to coast to the end.  Pre-fame Sandra Bullock (Love Potion No. 9, While You Were Sleeping) shows early good-girl appeal early on in a light, semi-romantic role as Spartan's sidekick Huxley, who is obsessed with anything 20th century, including its penchant for senseless violence.

You'd have to be nostalgic for the violence-filled films of the 1990s yourself to have any sort of love for Demolition Man, which is a few shades dumber than the clever moments call for.  Despite having a lot of fun with what a PC version of society might be like in the future, underneath it all, it's a very standard loose cannon cop vs. colorful crook storyline that had been done to death for several years prior to its release.  One suspects that there was once a creative and innovative idea for a movie at the beginning, but the real "demolition men," the studio execs and the film's action stars, probably blew most of those ideas out of the equation once they determined that being less ambitious with the material might recoup some of the expense of the production.  Meanwhile, Stallone must have had fun in making it, as he would do a nearly identical film three years later, only worse, in the futuristic Judge Dredd.

Side note: Oddly enough, I would visit an out-of-the-way pizza joint one day later, and the only pinball machine in the place would be Demolition Man.  I had to play it, overwhelmed by am apparent Huxley-esque burst of nostalgia for the 20th century.  In my opinion, that game stands up better than the movie it's based on, though neither is as entertaining as this promotional video.

 Qwipster's rating:

©2008 Vince Leo