Escape from New York

Escape from New York ★★★★

I've been on a John Carpenter kick this year, and since I intended to check out Escape from L.A., I decided to revisit Escape from New York. Oh boy, I forgot how utterly preposterous this premise is. Crime rises FOUR HUNDRED PERCENT somehow, so the United States just...turns Manhattan into a prison for the whole country, like any sensible country would. Although, hell, these days, that idea starts to look less ludicrous. So Lee motherfucking Van Cleef sends Kurt Russell in to get Donald Pleasence out in time for some summit meeting that could determine the fate of the world, and also he'll get a full pardon! Is Snake Plissken a bad enough dude to rescue the President? You bet your ass he is, look at that eyepatch. John Carpenter just drops the audience into this science fiction dystopia and slowly shows you more and more of it at a very deliberate pace. Quite deliberate. I didn't remember a whole lot about this movie, and that's probably because it's not actually that action-packed. More like Leisurely Stroll Through New York! Which is not to say it's boring at all, just that it's not a bunch of fight scenes and car chases. Instead it's Snake trying to get his mission done, acquiring allies along the way, occasionally checking in on the ticking clock, but Carpenter isn't interested in nail-biting tension here. He's too cool for that. Yet he does keep reminding the audience of the stakes, cutting to the outside world a few times, the world that needs their President, even though the world of New York is a world they've forsaken. So there's also a cynical undercurrent running through here that comes out most strongly in the final scene. This is good stuff, iconic and influential, with a lived-in world and quirky characters that don't need a whole lot of explanation. Pulpy but not cheesy, it's solid Carpenter that doesn't quite WOW me like some others.

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