It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
John Carpenter's “Escape From L.A.” is a go-for-broke action extravaganza that satirizes the genre at the same time it's exploiting it. It's a dark vision of a post-apocalyptic Los Angeles--leveled by a massive earthquake, cut off from the mainland by a flooded San Fernando Valley, and converted into a prison camp for the nation's undesirables.
Against this backdrop Carpenter launches a special-effects fantasy that reaches heights so absurd that there's a giddy delight in the outrage. He generates heedlessness and joy in scenes such as the one where the hero surfs on a tsunami wave down Wilshire Boulevard and leaps onto the back of a speeding convertible. It's as if he gave himself license to dream up anything--to play without a net. This is the kind of movie “Independence Day” could have been if it hadn't played it safe.
The production reunites Carpenter with actor Kurt Russell and producer Debra Hill, who also made his “Escape From New York” (1981). They wrote the script together (reportedly starting right after the 1994 earthquake), and it combines adventure elements with a bizarre gallery of characters and potshots at satirical targets such as plastic surgery, theme parks, agents and the imperial presidency.
As the movie opens in the year 2013, “Los Angeles Island” is no longer part of the United States, but a one-way destination for “immorals and undesirables,” who are offered an option at the deportation office: They can choose instant electrocution instead. The island is controlled by Cuervo Jones (George Corraface), a Latino revolutionary who has a big disco ball mounted on the trunk of his convertible. The United States is ruled by a president for life (Cliff Robertson), who has moved the capital to his hometown of Lynchburg, Va. Now his rebellious daughter Utopia (A.J. Langer) has hijacked Air Force Three and fled to Los Angeles with the precious black box that contains the codes controlling the globe's energy-transmission satellites.