Demolition Man (1993)

I've SEEN the future. Do you know what it is? It's a 47-year-old virgin sitting around in his beige pajamas, drinking a banana-broccoli shake, singing "I'm an Oscar Meyer Wiener"!
--Edgar Friendly

The year is 1993, and Sly Stallone's career had fallen on hard times. His reputation as an actor had been tainted with such cinematic disasters as Rocky V, Oscar, and Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot!, and the Iron Curtain had fallen two years ago which meant there were no more Commies for John Rambo to perforate. He needed a movie to drag his star out from where others had fallen, a movie which would spark his comeback as an action star, a movie which would place him in the limelight once more.

That movie was Cliffhanger, which was a critical and commercial success and picked up four (technical) Oscar nominations.

Then, five months later, this came out:

We begin at Los Angeles in the future year 1996, which is a criminal-infested wasteland which is constantly on fire. Quite a bleak three-year outlook for the city, huh?

LAPD officer John Spartan (Stallone), a.k.a. the "Demolition Man", is called in to deal with a hostage situation in one of the apparently many crime-infested parts of the city, where criminal madman Simon Phoenix (Wesley Snipes, in a case of one man with a cool name playing another man with a cool name) is holding a busload of passengers hostage. Spartan storms a derelict building where Phoenix is hiding out, and they both get into a fight during which some explosives are set off and the building is brought tumbling down. Spartan eventually wins, and Phoenix is arrested and carted off to be frozen in a cryogenic prison.

...Well, that was a short movie. Very simple story, too. Looks like this will be a short review for a change. Hope you enjoyed reading it.

Oh wait. Spartan is arrested as well on charges of involuntary manslaughter when all the hostages are found dead in the rubble, and he gets frozen too.

Fast forward a few decades to the year 2032, where Los Angeles has merged with San Diego and San Bernadino to become the megalopolis of "San Angeles". Yes, you guessed it--it's another dystopian future movie. We seem to get a lot of those nowadays. The only difference here is unlike the other two I've covered, there isn't some ultra-violent national sport to keep the proletariat from revolting.

Here we meet our third major character, Lenina Huxley (a pre-Speed Sandra Bullock), a lieutenant in the San Angeles Police Department, which isn't seeing much action these days since the society they live in is a peaceful, puritan one organized by the city's pacifist leader Dr. Raymond Cocteau (Nigel Hawthorne). Huxley is one of those "retro nuts" you see a lot of now and then, people who are infatuated with the pop culture from a previous era; in her case, the late 20th century. Her office and apartment are decked out with all sorts of paraphernalia from this period in time, and she's seen so many action movies from way back when that her day job seems kind of boring. If only something interesting were to happen...

There's one in every workplace.

Well, careful what you wish for, because today's the day of Simon Phoenix's parole hearing. This goes south quickly when shortly after he's thawed out he manages to free himself of his restraints, dispatch the guards with some martial arts moves, and poke out the warden's eye to trigger the retinal scan security system to excuse himself from the building.

He does not know how he managed this.

He's just broken out of jail and already he's racked up six homicides and stolen a car--

Oh, wait a minute. This is too rich. They don't use the word "homicide" to describe a code 187 in 2032 San Angeles. You know what they call it now?

You really wanna know?

Okay, here it is:

I will give you a moment to process this and laugh appropriately.

Yes. It seems that there hasn't been a homicide in San Angeles for so long that they forgot what it was called and just made something up. Most of the dialogue in this film is along these same lines. What do they call a burglary, a "RobberyTheftSteal"?

Well, anyway, the SAPD's *ahem* finest are unable to restrain Phoenix--when they first approach him at a phone booth-like computer terminal, the arresting officer has to read from a small prompter becuase he doesn't know what to do--that they eventually come to realize the only way to catch an old-fashioned criminal is with an old-fashioned cop. So they dig up Spartan's ice cube in the cryoprison, thaw him out and reinstate him as a fully-deputized law enforcer. Huxley is assigned to be his partner since she speaks late 20th Century...or tries to numerous times, anyway.

Phoenix's trail leads to the San Angeles history museum, where he has found the Armory exhibit...or rather, many particularly deadly weapons stored in a glass display case which any maniac, not just Phoenix, could smash through if he used his head...or in Phoenix's case, someone else's. Spartan eventually catches up to him, and they have a tearful reunion throughout the rest of the museum, Phoenix greeting Spartan using a highly-advanced magnetic accelerator gun and Spartan using his fists.

Spartan escapes the museum only to run into Dr. Cocteau himself, but strangely he cannot find it in himself to blow his head off. The good doctor suggests that he has "someone to kill", a man who through some sort of hypnotic suggestion Phoenix knows to be named "Edgar Friendly", and Phoenix casually wanders off, not knowing why he can't shoot him.

"Oh, please, just call me 'Your Holiness'."

After this, they spend a bit of time fleshing out this non-threatening, peaceful world we've entered. Spartan has an understandably hard time adjusting to San Angeles in a future where:
  • Everyone has a bio-engineered sensor chip implanted into their skin so they can be monitored wherever they go.
  • Thanks to the 61st Amendment which apparently repealed the part in the Constitution that said the President had to be a natural born citizen, Arnold Schwarzenegger was elected to the White House at some point. 
  • A war between fast food franchises has left Taco Bell the last remaining restaurant chain.
  • The most popular radio station in town plays nothing but old commercial jingles.
  • The modern convenience of toilet paper has been replaced by "three seashells." They don't really explain how that works, so you'll just have to use your imagination.
  • Everything that has been deemed not good for you is bad, and is henceforth illegal - smoking, alcohol, contact sports, meat, chocolate, gasoline, toys that aren't educational, salt, even SWEARING is against the law. Matter of fact, there's a running gag throughout the film where anyone who cusses is ticketed for "violating the verbal morality statute."
  • Much to the delight of Republicans, religious wackos and the state government of Kansas, abortion is illegal as well. But then, so is impregnating your wife without a license.
  • Speaking of sex, it is now done without any physical contact or fluid transference with the use of neurological "thought helmets." If you want to make a baby, you have to go to a lab.

"Can't we just cuddle? ...oh, right, we can't."

We also learn that there is an underground resistance movement in the sewers of San Angeles who are reportedly organizing and plotting to overturn Cocteau's nanny state, led by this Edgar Friendly whom Cocteau wants Phoenix to kill. Spartan notices this when during a dinner date at a fancy, err...Taco Bell he chases away some subterranean ruffians who it turns out were just foraging a delivery truck for food. Spartan, Huxley, and a third cop played by Benjamin Bratt investigate further by checking out the sewers, where they discover an underground civilization of shabby-looking people who have rejected Cocteau's law and have made a crude version of old Los Angeles where they live their lives in poverty and minding their own business. This "Edgar Friendly" turns out to be Denis Leary in a trench coat, just a regular guy who likes to annoy Cocteau from a distance and just has a few friends along for no reason. Though he does sound flattered that Cocteau sent someone to kill him.

Then Phoenix arrives to shoot up the place and we get another fight scene complete with a car chase, Phoenix in a modern police car with futuristic control screens he somehow knows how to read, and Spartan in Edgar's 1970 Oldsmobile. During this tussle, Phoenix takes the time to casually mention that the bus passengers he was holding hostage at the start of the film were already dead when Spartan arrived, so he went to freezer jail for nothing. Oh, you little rascal.

By now Spartan and Huxley have put all the pieces together: Cocteau wants to kill Edgar and crush the resistance he is supposedly leading, but since ape can't be seen killing ape in the world he created and with a police department too dumb for words, his only option was to brainwash the imprisoned Phoenix into doing it for him, feeding him the knowledge,  access codes and physical capabilities he would need to do the job, and then busting him out of jail when the time was ripe. Phoenix even asks Cocteau to thaw out some of his old friends to help him out.

Here we have to wonder if Cocteau was really thinking straight. Here he is, letting one of the 20th century's most kill-crazy felons loose on the streets after years of implanting the skills of a Navy SEAL and an expert computer hacker and his only job is to kill ONE GUY? What about the harm he could do to this peaceful society, one that is actually stupid enough to keep all of their weapons FULLY LOADED behind a glass case in a museum? Did he not consider the amount of collateral damage this man might cause, as measured in destruction of property and loss of life? And what will he do when his job is finished? How is he going to rein him in? If the police can't stop him, who can? And talking of killing machines, who's to say that he won't pull a Terminator scenario out of his hat and become self-aware, rise up against his master, kill him, and then unite his fellow machines against the humans and take over the world?

Well, unfortunately for Cocteau, that last thing I mentioned is exactly what happens. Phoenix turns the tables, has one of his cronies shoot Cocteau (since he's programmed not to do it himself) and is now planning to thaw out every thug in the cryoprison to raise infinite amounts of hell on San Angeles, just like in the good old days.

And all Spartan learned in cryoprison was how to knit.

With support from Edgar Friendly and his...friends, and no help whatsoever from the increasingly boorish SAPD police chief (Bob Gunton), Spartan and Huxley infiltrate the cryoprison where Phoenix is awaiting for the final showdown. Huxley manages to take out one of Phoenix's cronies before Spartan renders her unconscious with his taser...truncheon...thing to face the big boss alone. Another fight breaks out between the two of them and Phoenix has the upper hand throughout most of it, but thanks to a smashed cryogenic fluid container, Phoenix's body is finally frozen solid and finally shattered like liquid nitrogen. Spartan escapes just as the cryoprison is destroyed by several massive explsions.

Finally, with the police chief mourning the loss of their city's leader and Edgar Friendly eager to have the party he's fought for his right to have, Spartan suggests that the two of them work together to form a law-abiding but more permissive society, and then leaves with Huxley, asking her how the "three seashells" thing works.

Demolition Man is a silly movie, a VERY silly movie. It doesn't completely subscribe to the idea that everyone in the future will wear jumpsuits and eat food pills for three square meals a day, but its depiction of a dystopian, overly sanitized society isn't taken as seriously as in other films. I'm not sure whether it was trying to criticize ultra-liberal political correctness or uber-conservative sheltering--perhaps it was more focused on the balance between order and chaos, but the extra bits like Taco Bell, President Schwarzenegger and the "three seashells" clearly have nothing to do with the plot and were merely written in for a laugh.

Also, there was also a proposed subplot about Spartan seeing his daughter after being frozen for thirty years which never gets off the ground.

Credit where it's due, however--Wesley Snipes is enjoyable as Simon Phoenix. Just look at him gallivanting around 2032 San Angeles, running rings around its incompetent police force, MurderDeathKilling people all over the place. He's like a kid at Christmas who doesn't know which present to open first. Bonus points should also go to Denis Leary, who plays Edgar Friendly as...Denis Leary in a trench coat.

Take from this movie what you will, but it's MOST DEFINITELY a silly movie.

"Now, John, about that 'fluid transference' thing..."

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