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Saturday, 30 June 2018

Retro Review: Demolition Man (1993)

Demolition Man
1993
Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Wesley Snipes, Sandra Bullock, Nigel Hawthorne, Benjamin Bratt, Denis Leary
Genre: Science Fiction Action Comedy
Worldwide Box Office Gross: over $159 million 

Plot: A police officer is brought out of suspended animation in prison to pursue an old ultra-violent nemesis who is set loose in a non-violent future society 





'Do Not Demolish This'

Sylvester Stallone's Demolition Man and Cliffhanger spearheaded the Italian Stallion's turnaround in 1993 and after lukewarm reception towards Rocky V and notable stabs at comedy that was met with little success in Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot and Oscar the previous year, Sly went back to his action roles, but also realising that he may not have a good grasp of comedy, he had to relax, settle down and figure out what to do next. Surprisingly, he went down the comedy route again in Demolition Man - only interestingly and to my intrigue, this time, it worked out much better. 

Demolition Man depicts a California of the future where morality, political correctness have taken over society and in affecting its community and residents in many ways: alcohol, smoking, chocolate, swearing, abortion, sex and kiss to name but a couple are all banned. In John Spartan and Simon Phoenix, they operate on opposite sides of the law with John as the law enforcer and Simon unleashing his anarchy, wherever he goes. At first, Sparton goes after Phoenix and manages to kill his henchmen. Yet, he comes across some dead hostages and is held and convicted of their deaths and for manslaughter. He, along with archenemy, Phoenix are sentenced for the next 60 years in a cryogenic prison. 36 years later, Los Angeles has now become a more totalitarian place, as it has traded freedom for safety. Officer Lenina Huxley is bored with her role and of the fact that nothing remotely interesting takes place. She is eager to get stuck in and is interested in the world of the violent 1990s and wants a piece of the action. Then Phoenix escapes and breaks out, the police un-thaw Sparton, who finds out his wife died and that they have no idea what happened to his daughter. There is also a subplot involving Raymond Cocteau, who is hailed as a saviour for resurrecting LA and turning it into a utopian city, - & yet who also has something planned up his sleeve, which isn't for the good. 

With that in mind, Stallone delivered a performance that was entertaining, and one that made use of his brand of wit that he previously had in Tango and Cash, another action comedy romp wherein he and co-star, Kurt Russell made for a kick ass buddy cop partnership. & here with Demolition Man, he once again relies on charm and wit without diminishing in being an action star and he and Bullock radiate a sparkling glow as the film's male/female pairing. Their partnership and the way it unravels is key to how well they work together. Beyond the action set pieces, explosions, martial arts, futuristic set designs and police cars, in Sparton and more especially Hexley, she provides that human, emotional-though not too emotional-element & it anchors the film, giving it some meaning, as well as a heart to it. Whilst Wesley Snipes never overacts in his role as the villain and bonus points to the casting director and Joel Silver for opting for an actor who is dissimilar to Sly Stallone in the fight stakes, with Snipes's martial arts vs Stallone's brutish, no-holds-barred style. 

In a film of what is almost entirely made of male actors, Sandra Bullock almost steals the show from headliner Stallone, with a performance that was not only quite out of this world but it also shows how adept she can be in an action flick. Demolition Man is also noted as being Bullock's breakthrough role; whilst Jennifer Aniston, Julia Roberts and Meg Ryan each got their feet off the ground in successive rom-coms, Sandra Bullock turned heads in a sci-fi comedy actioner, & for the right reasons. Filling in for Lori Petty who dropped out after one day's worth of shooting, eventually, it didn't work out & in her place was Bullock, who at the time, was still relatively unknown and before the dizzy heights of her rom-com success, delivering an individual performance that is warm, sweet, amusing & engaging. Dropping subtle hints of her charm and likeability that has made her one of the numbers of bankable actresses of the 1990s and 2000s, she did really good, well, make that too good. Oh, did I mention the part where she beats the hell out of one of the bad guys using martial arts? That was really good. It makes me wish she had more hero roles where she did that. She followed this up in Speed, a year after this movie was released, although having seen both Demolition Man and Speed, to me, I prefer her performance in this film than the one with Keanu Reeves, even though that movie was great also. The other performances were okay with Denis Leary, a small appearance by comic actor, Rob Schneider, but Benjamin Bratt's was nothing much to speak of.  

In something that I hadn't noticed until I watched it in full, the writers manage to send up and poke fun at political correctness in a future where violence is outlawed, as well as sex and red meat is banned. & it's all done sufficiently well. 

Visually, it looks like something that could have been directed by Paul Verhoeven or James Cameron; that Robocop, Total Recall and Terminator 2-esque aesthetic look, right down from the uniforms, the cars to the characters appearances themselves, as well as nailing that satirical angle of the Verhoeven efforts. It's all very sleek, stylish but also very 'out there' in a snazzy kind of way. And it looks amazing, along with the great action sequences.

Demolition Man is one of those action sci-fi movies that is just more than action and sci-fi elements all blended into one package; it's also a satirical social commentary on the law, what it entails, how we ought to go about it and in our daily lives and how the police force in the future may deal with it. Additionally, it's well structured and it took a while for me to really get into the movie until John is unthawed and he and Hexley go about business in a not-so-destructive way, but still taking matters into their own hands against Simon Phoenix. It works on a different level that is almost far less conventional than your typical gung-ho action movie, which is a big plus. The humour is well worked into the movie, yet in the ITV4 UK edit on TV, Taco Bell is replaced by Pizza Hut, for some odd and unexplained reason. 





Final Verdict:

This is one of Stallone's better movies that even to this day, some people choose to sleep on and it ranks amongst as one of the best sci-fi actioners of all-time. Along with a fun and great turn by Sandra Bullock, showing her chops, Demolition Man is an action comedy that is strong in the action and is equally strong in the comedy also. Which is a surprise, but it was really good to see.

There are very few of these types of big-budget action movies that rely on wit and good writing, not just action set pieces galore, if more of them were of the quality of Demolition Man and 1994's True Lies, that in terms of style and tone treads on similar territory as this effort, the action genre would flourish even more. 



Overall:


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