Demolition Man

A Film Review by James Berardinelli
1.5 stars
United States, 1993
U.S. Release Date: 10/8/93 (wide)
Running Length: 1:54
MPAA Classification: R (Violence, language, brief nudity)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1

Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Wesley Snipes, Sandra Bullock, Nigel Hawthorne, Denis Leary
Director: Marco Brambilla
Producers: Joel Silver, Michael Levy, and Howard Kazanjian
Screenplay: Daniel Walters, Robert Reneau, and Peter M. Lenkov
Cinematography: Alex Thomson
Music: Elliot Goldenthal
U.S. Distributor: Warner Brothers

It's 1996 and Los Angeles has become a war zone. The Hollywood sign is on fire, and the rest of the city is in worse shape. Into this situation comes one of LA's most feared cops, John Spartan, the "demolition man" (Sylvester Stallone), an officer who will destroy a $7 million building to save one little girl's life. His nemesis is sadistic psycho Simon Phoenix (Wesley Snipes) who kills for the joy of it. In a seven-minute, action-filled prologue, Good Guy chases Bad Guy through a burning, exploding inferno. Alas, however, even though our valiant hero captures his prey, he gets blamed for the deaths of innocent hostages, and, like the evil villain he pursued, is sentenced to many years in cryogenic captivity.

Shift the scene to 2032. Bad Guy has escaped and the peace-loving cops of the decade have released Good Guy prematurely from his sleep, because he's the only one who can stop the sudden spree of death and mayhem. Accompanied by his partner Love Interest (aka Lenina Huxley, played by Sandra Bullock), Good Guy again sets off in pursuit. Many dead bodies, bruises, torn shirts, and explosions later, we in the audience start to feel that this film is going absolutely nowhere, and taking an awfully long time getting there.

For something like this to work, suspension of disbelief is necessary, yet the movie makes no attempt to create a viable scenario whereby this can be achieved. The world of 2032 is cartoon-like, with silly, stilted dialogue peppered with awkward-sounding slang and technological achievements that are better-suited to one-hundred years beyond this time. The brief history lesson we're given of the years between 1996 and 2032 tells a laughably ludicrous tale.

Laughter is something that Demolition Man is good at generating but, as you can probably guess, most of the funniest bits are supposed to be serious. Assuredly, the movie tries for a fair amount of comic relief, but those moments are mostly comprised of juvenile gags and one-liners. It's incidents like when Wesley Snipes gets whacked twice with a TV set and barely suffers a bruise that make up the real humor. There's more self-parody than straight parody in Demolition Man.

All-in-all, this is about as brainless as action films get. There might have been some attempt to imitate elements of Total Recall, but most of this seems to have gotten lost someplace in the numerous re-writes. There's a subplot about Good Guy's lost daughter that also gets dropped. My pet theory is that she was supposed to be Sandra Bullock, but when the decision was made to create Love Interest, that part of the story was stripped away.

It's about as meaningless to talk about acting as characterization. Sylvester Stallone grunts and flexes his muscles. Wesley Snipes grimaces and bares his pearly-whites (and what's the deal with that awful blonde hairdo?). Sandra Bullock proves just how silly her dialogue is. And Denis Leary is Denis Leary, doing his slick fast-talking routine and seeming completely out of place.

Yes, this film is worse than Cliffhanger, Stallone's last venture into chaos. And, while I'm not one to leap forward and extol the limitless virtues of Total Recall, that motion picture is a masterpiece in comparison to this one. At least there, the future was believable. Here, it's a hopelessly cliched place where the explosions can conveniently be boosted by a few nifty (but not especially original) special effects.

In the end, that's all this film is: flames, flying bullets, and special effects. It could be worse, I suppose, but as long as people go into this film with their eyes open, there shouldn't be any surprises. And if there's one lasting question to carry away from Demolition Man, it's how Arnold Schwarzenegger could become President of the United States, sixty-first amendment notwithstanding.

© 1993 James Berardinelli

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