In the run-up to review 500, I’ve been taking requests from friends and readers, and the most recent one was merely “a Sandra Bullock movie!” I thought about “Miss Congeniality” but realised she’d done a movie which fit into the ISCFC’s wheelhouse perfectly – a weirdly comedic, near-future action movie which was misunderstood on release, a bit.
Joel Silver is one of the more intriguing fellows in Hollywood. Along with the Simpson / Bruckheimer crew, he’s responsible almost single-handedly for what you probably think of if you think of Hollywood in the late 80s-90s. I was going to list his movies but it’d take up most of this review – suffice to say, he’s had an enormous amount of success with big-budget action movies, with a strong element of humour in them, spectacular set pieces and OTT endings. There was a brief moment in the early 90s when the action stayed the same, but the comedy was ramped way up – an era that audiences rejected soundly and are a byword for unchecked hubris from their stars. The thing is, looking back on them now they’ve aged pretty well, and had it not been for their box office failure meaning it was open season on mockery, they’d be a lot more fondly remembered.
The king of these OTT action comedies is “Hudson Hawk” (another Silver production), without a doubt; but the other main offenders are “The Last Action Hero” and this. One each for Schwarzenegger, Willis and Stallone, before they all decided to stick to action, or comedy, but never the twain shall meet. There are other, lesser examples, like “Double Dragon” and “Street Fighter”, but they’re both based on computer games so I don’t think they had the same pressure on them. This, on the other hand, only feels like it was based on a computer game.
Evidently, Joel Silver thought the world would fall apart, hard, in the next few years. Stallone is John Spartan, the baddest cop in the hellscape that is 1996 LA, and he’s after the world’s most evil criminal, Simon Phoenix (Wesley Snipes). After a pretty ridiculous action sequence, involving bungee jumping from a helicopter and blowing up a building, and the way the cops believe the super-criminal over their best cop, both men are put in cryogenic jail. Phoenix is woken up in 2032 and escapes – clearly with the help of someone powerful – and finds a very different world.
The world of 2032 is a fun idea, if you don’t think about it. No fossil fuel, barely any crime, no guns, everyone seems happy, and the city of San Angeles seems like a decent place to live. But it goes silly quickly – you’ll be fined for swearing ; everything bad for you (including salt, caffeine and alcohol) has been banned, and for some reason people use multiple words where one would do. For instance – murder is now known as “MurderDeathKill”, time is “tick-tocks”, and so on. The cops haven’t seen a murder in almost 20 years and are completely unprepared for the wildness of Phoenix, so guess who they have to thaw out?
Spartan teams up with 20th century obsessed cop Lenina Huxley (Sandra Bullock), plus there’s Dennis Leary as the leader of the people who’ve chosen to live underground rather than submit to The Man, and endless funny little moments as one of our guys from the past interacts with a bit of 2032.
The satire is very strong in places. Watching it from 2015, where the world is meaner, the gap between rich and poor is even wider, and the political right is destroying all manner of social programs, San Angeles seems nicer than I suspect the filmmakers meant it to. But then you have Dennis Leary, via a monologue which feels lifted straight from his standup of the time, making the case for…the world we live in today, pretty much…and his nonsense is never corrected. I don’t think it’s as simple as “I should be allowed to do whatever I want” versus “all things that are bad for you are banned” – there’s billions of dollars of advertising spent to convince you that fast food X isn’t nutrition-free garbage and our “freedom of choice” is just freedom to be exploited by the wealthiest corporations. The loudest shouters for “freedom of speech” just want freedom from consequences, or freedom from having to listen to viewpoints different to their own.
I’m drifting from the topic of this fine movie quite a bit, though. A lot of the jokes rely on you not thinking about them too much – the most popular radio station plays old advertising jingles, but there appears to be no actual music; people have no idea at all about the past, yet what happened to all the books and movies and so on? Where did all the guns go? 35 years (or however long they were in cryo-jail) just isn’t long enough for everyone to have forgotten the past so completely, which makes you wonder why they decided on that as the time…
Spartan had a wife who apparently died in a gigantic earthquake in 2010, and a daughter, but the movie tells us nothing about her other than she’s still alive. I would bet £20 that Sandra Bullock was originally going to be the daughter (love of violence is in her blood!) but they changed it at the very last minute to be a love interest. The problem is, it’s such a weird hole in things that it leaves their relationship feeling a little creepy – it’s not on the screen at all, just reading between the lines. IMDB’s trivia backs me up, so I’d guess there’s an alternate ending on a cutting room floor somewhere.
Bullock is great though, playing her part with enthusiasm but a weird sort of naivete which comes across as charming. Stallone is Stallone, but Snipes (and most of the rest of the cast) have a whale of a time chewing scenery and there’s a strong sense that this was a fun movie to make. It’s certainly a fun one to watch, even if it’s so packed with stuff that any satirical intent is sort of choked by weird references to how they have sex in the future, or the way they use the toilet.
But…it tries to say something, unlike virtually all other action films (and comedies) of the time. I’m not sure how much say director Marco Brambilia (a video artist) had over Stallone and Silver, but it’s a great looking, odd, funny, action-packed movie.
Rating: thumbs up