Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Tuesday, August 11, 2015

THE SYLVESTER SEMESTER: Demolition Man (1993)

1993 brought two Sylvester Stallone movies to the big screen. The first of which, “Cliffhanger,” was a bigger commercial success and showed that the Italian Stallion could still open a flick in the nineties. The second still made money but seemed the lesser of the two films, at the time. History has been kind to “Demolition Man.” Repeated cable showings along with a funny, quirky screenplay has made the film into a cult classic. In retrospect, it may be Stallone’s best film during the shifty nineties era.

In the near future of 1996, Los Angeles is a hell hole. Psychotic crime boss Simon Phoenix is part of the reason for that. Only renegade cop John Spartan can take Phoenix down. That duel gets both men toss in a future-jail, where convicts are cryogenically frozen. In the actual near future of 2032, the world has been pacified into a profanity and junk food free utopia. It’s the perfect world for the newly reawaken Phoenix to wreak havoc in. Realizing only a maniac can stop a maniac, the woefully unprepared future police thaw out John Spartan. While attempting to take down the psychopath, Spartan has to navigate a future at odds with his attitude.

“Demolition Man” is a clever genre fusion. As an action flick, the film isn’t far removed from the sort of stuff Stallone had been making since the eighties. John Spartan is a hero largely in the same mold as Marion Cobretti and John Rambo. The movie is also a science fiction satire. The future of “Demolition Man” is inspired by dystopian novels like “Brave New World.” It’s not a world where the government crushes the individual’s will with totalitarian oppression. Instead, people happily comply with silly laws in order to make the world a nicer place. In short, “Demolition Man” is a piss-take on the dystopian novel. Though every vice is outlawed, the future of the film still seems… Kind of nice. It’s clean, simple, and harmless. Eventually, a dark underground is revealed. But even it is more whimsical and goofy then out-right ominous. The movie creates a future that is a funny satire of accepted sci-fi tropes while being compelling in its own right.

What really makes “Demolition Man” endure is its quirky sense of humor. One of several writers who worked on the film was Daniel Waters. The odd dialect of the future, which is a mixture of ultra-polite speech and Orwellian doubletalk, recalls the surreal high school slang Waters created in “Heathers.” There are many small, funny bits in “Demolition Man.” All swearing is fined. Whenever a character swears, a machine can be heard clinking out a fee in the background. This is a running gag the movie employs without fail. I love the bit where Spartan unleashes a spree of swears, emptying the paper in the machine. There are other brilliantly odd bits that have been quoted countless times. Such as Taco Bell winning the Franchise Wars or the mystery of the three seashells. Less well-remembered bits include the self-encouragement booth or the love of commercial jingles. Film Thoughts favorite scribe Fred Dekker apparently did some uncredited work on the film to. His creative, irrelevant spirit runs through the film as well, such as the details of the underground society or the direct way Phoenix deals with the conspiracy manipulating him.

“Demolition Man’s” very funny screenplay calls on Sylvester Stallone’s rarely well-utilized ability for comedy. Sly’s utter bafflement at the future around him makes for some good comedy. His reaction to the city’s mayor inviting him to dinner at Taco Bell is priceless. So is his joy at discovering a cheese burger and a classic car. Mostly, Sly’s granite-slate face makes him a perfect straight man. His deadpan reaction to Sandra Bullock’s character mangling 20th century slang is a good reoccurring gag. So is his sudden revelation that he can sew. The action stuff is great for Stallone too, as he gets to dangle off a moving vehicle, leap through the air, fire two guns at once, and whoop some serious ass.

“Demolition Man” was also an important film in the evolution of Wesley Snipes. A future action star in his own right, the film was only Snipes second true action credit. Simon Phoenix is perfectly catered to Snipes’ charms. His sadistic delight at being a bad guy is infectiously fun. This is first displayed when he awakens in the future and begins insulting a computer. His direct way of dealing with problems, such as thick glass in a museum, is amusing. Snipes has a certain swagger that works great in the part. When taking people out with a shotgun or effortlessly firing a machine gun, he always seems to be having fun making chaos. Snipes also gets to show off his considerable martial arts skill, like when he’s flipping dudes and cracking necks. For a brief shining period, Snipes would become an action superstar and “Demolition Man” can be partially credited for that.

For all its impressive humor and imaginative science-fiction, “Demolition Man” is still a bad ass action flick too. Director Marco Brambilla didn’t do much before or after this but the guy knows how to ramp up the visual tension. The action sequences are stylish, with the right mixture of dramatic and fun. Many of the fights between Sly and Snipes are noteworthy. The shoot-out in the museum stumbles into the tunnels below, which features plenty of fun leaping and dodging. Stallone even gets to show off his fighting skills, during the confrontation with the rebels outside the Taco Bell. The battle on a moving vehicle is also note-worthy, for the way Phoenix keeps dropping threats even while attempting to kill Spartan. The final battle in the CryoPrison is huge but well orchestrated, involving giant claws, laser blasts, and freezing fluid.

You know how good “Demolition Man” is? I like Sandra Bullock in it! The romance between her character and Stallone’s is funny and kind of sweet without distracting from the ass-kicking. Hilarious supporting turns from Dennis Leary and Glenn Shaddix are just the frosting on the cake. Though the script is slightly underdeveloped, and it’s clear many deleted scenes got cut out, “Demolition Man” remains a smart-ass action classic. Now, excuse me, I have to take a taco break. [9/10]

[] Frank Stallone or Frank Stallone-esque Inspirational Music
[X] Incapacitates or Kills Someone With His Body
[X] Shows Off Buffness
[X] Social Outcast [A Man Out of Time]
[X] Sweaty, Veiny Yelling

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