Demolition Man (1993)

Director: Marco Brambilla

Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Wesley Snipes, Sandra Bullock, Nigel Hawthorne, Benjamin Bratt, Bob Gunton, Denis Leary, Rob Schneider

Utopia as a concept could never be applicable in real-life. Our capacity for greed, desire, and the unwillingness to conform (to name but a few human traits) would make such a world impossible. I don’t think I would want to live in a world where everything is ruled by corporations, and extreme measures have resulted in the outlawing of sex, violence, junk food and foul language. Well, violence could stand a little toning down, but goodness knows how we’ll get there, and we’ve already experienced an overwhelming degree of corporate takeover. New York City until recently had a mayor who wanted to impose a ban on sugary drinks. The point is, we’re not automatons, and at least a percentage of us prefer to think for ourselves. I believe this portion of the population comes out to roughly 99 percent.

Incredible that I could be beginning the review of a Sylvester Stallone film by getting political, but the oft misunderstood “Demolition Man” has more going for it than just cheesy one-liners and cool ‘splosions. It has a lot of those, too, and the prologue bears the resemblance of a “Lethal Weapon” sequel in the way that it cuts right into the middle of a tense action sequence that involves hostages, and explosives threatening to level an entire building. The movie is well aware of this comparison, as later the theatrical poster for “Lethal Weapon 3” can be seen hanging on the wall in someone’s office. It’s 1996, and we’re in a crime-ravaged Los Angeles, a nightmarish version of the 1992 L.A. riots gone completely beyond anyone’s control. John Spartan (Sylvester Stallone) has come in to put a stop to the plans of criminal Simon Phoenix (Wesley Snipes), ignoring police procedure. Does he stop the bad guy and save the day before the opening credits? Well, yes and no. The movie isn’t called “Demoliton Man” (Spartan’s nickname) for no reason. For his recklessness, Spartan is sentenced to 70 years of cryogenic suspension. Most real-life law officers get off easier on an involuntary manslaughter charge.

Flashing forward into the future (the year 2032, to be exact), “Demolition Man” takes a risk that so few Stallone films ever would, leaving John Spartan on ice, and off-screen, for 20 minutes straight! During this time, we are instead introduced to all the important supporting characters as they frantically try to deal with a trail of bodies and destruction being left by Simon Phoenix, who has been taken out of cryostasis for reasons unknown. Among them is Lt. Lenina Huxley, played by the adorable Sandra Bullock. The lines that most of the characters in this movie speak are so completely absurd that the movie could have become a total farce (and some would have you believe that it still does), but Bullock in particular delivers her lines with sincerity.

John Spartan is awakened to help corral Simon Phoenix, and the world he finds is so entirely foreign to him. Cars can be set to auto-drive, fines are assessed every time foul language is used, the oldies radio station plays wall-to-wall commercial jingles, and every restaurant is a Taco Bell. This is the way that Raymond Cocteau (Nigel Hawthorne) wants things, because it means he has total control. He’s the 1 percent. Anyone who disagrees with Cocteau’s vision is deemed a criminal/terrorist. He sees his most direct threat in Edgar Friendly (Denis Leary), a sort of Robin Hood for the have-nots of Cocteau’s utopia. Like so many who stand up for the rights of the lower & middle classes, Edgar’s desires to eat unhealthy food, drink, smoke and have premarital sex make him a target for assassination. Who better to carry out such a deed than Simon Phoenix? After all, the police in 2032 no longer have any clue as to how to deal with criminals, much less murderers. Of course, Cocteau’s plan didn’t account for someone unfreezing John Spartan to finish the job he started back in 1996, nor Phoenix being intelligent enough to find a loophole in his behavioral conditioning.

Getting past the contrivance that sees Spartan being put in suspended animation, “Demolition Man” is Stallone’s best movie from the 1990’s, and is far more socially relevant 20 years later than it was when it was first released to theaters. Stallone and Snipes have terrific hero/villain chemistry, and I am delighted to know that they will be working together again for the first time since “Demolition Man” in “The Expendables 3,” due for a 2014 release. Sandra Bullock, while her career has had its ups and downs, has an impressive filmography that includes action-thriller “Speed,” 2005 Best Picture Winner “Crash,” her Best Actress Oscar-winning role in 2009’s “The Blind Side” and her most recent hit, 2013’s “Gravity.”

Part of the fun in watching movies which are set in the future is in picking out the little unforeseen things they get wrong vs. what they get right. For example, no one in 1993 could have had any clue that the Oldsmobile brand of car would be discontinued only a decade later. Though it could have been predicted, Jeffrey Dahmer had yet to be murdered by a fellow prison inmate, and thus is included as one of the criminals being kept on ice. In the case of the 2032-era cars in this movie, no one could have guessed that their body design would be so similar to the real-life cars of 2013. Still don’t have that nifty auto-drive function yet.

With the politics of “Demolition Man” made clear, there is still one lingering question… Just how is one supposed to use “the three seashells”?!

  1. Elmo Shell says:

    Your a terrorist, with them views there son. You need some Rush Limbaugh/Bill O’Reilly in your life.
    Good review by the way, sinner! lol

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