Escape From New York (1981)

Shoot a cop with a gun
The Big Apple is plenty of fun
Stab a priest with a fork
And you'll spend your vacation in New York!

Rob a bank, take a truck
You can get here by stealing a buck
This is bliss, it's a lark
Honey, everyone's going to New York!

No more Yankees
Strike the word from your ears
Play the roulette
There's no more opera at the Met

This is hell, this is fate
But now this is your home and it's great
So rejoice, pop a cork
Honey, everyone's going to New York!

Hey, it's another movie about how much the future will suck! (What is this, our sixth now?)

And it's our first movie from director John Carpenter! The guy who gave us Halloween, Christine, Big Trouble in Little China and The Fog! The director who often composes the music to the movies he makes!

And it's the movie the Watergate scandal inspired him to make, even though it came out seven years after it happened!

Hey, it's that guy who appeared in four other John Carpenter movies! Including the sequel to this one!

In the far-off year of 1997, the Spice Girls reach the apex of their popularity, an over-hyped James Cameron film becomes the most popular movie in the world, the crime rate in America has increased exponentially, and the once lively city of New York has been converted into the world's largest criminal containment facility. A wall is constructed around the entirety of Manhattan, all bridges leading into the facility are mined, and guards are stationed around the perimeter. Roaches check in, but they don't check out.

I'm not exactly sure why the U.S. government decided to turn the country's largest city, a thriving metropolis with a culture all its own that millions of tourists visit every year, into a massive penal colony. There is a sequel to this film, Escape from L.A., that goes into more detail as to what kind of sick dystopian ruling party would think this was a good idea, but that's a film that wouldn't come out for another fifteen years, so this is the hand that we're dealt.

Worst. White House Easter Egg hunt. Ever.

One day, President Donald Pleasance, the man who signed off on this idea I would assume, is on his way to a summit meeting with the Chinese and the Russians for world peace or something like that when Air Force One is hijacked by terrorists and crashes inside the New York City prison. The President manages to eject from the plane in an escape pod just before it hits, but lands within the walls anyway and hasn't been heard from since. Since Glenn Close isn't here, Police Commissioner Lee Van Cleef decides to hire a felon by the name of Snake Plissken, a disillusioned war hero convicted of robbing a Federal Reserve Bank and played by Kurt Russell, to break into New York, find the Commander-in-Chief and bring him out again before his summit meeting in exchange for a full pardon.

And just to give him that extra spark of motivation, explosive charges are injected into his body that will burst his arteries and kill him within twenty-two hours, and the Commish has promised to neutralize them on return of the President.

(So they close off a whole bunch of tourist attractions--the Statue of Liberty, Times Square, every last theater on Broadway, choking off a major source of economic growth for an entire state--just to build a prison?)

They're Maggie and the Brain, yes, Maggie and the Brain...
One played a radio DJ in a California seaside town, the other a detective investigating haunted-car related murders...

Plissken enters the facility armed with a device that tracks the President's heart monitor and a countdown clock to when the explosives in his body are set off. The signals lead him to the basement of a decrepit theater, where he assumes the worst when he finds the heart monitor on the wrist of a drunken wastrel. When he contacts the police and they refuse to let him back out, a new lead suddenly emerges when Ernest Borgnine of The Black Hole appears as a cab driver who recognizes Snake at the theater, picks him and kindly informs him a gunpoint that the President is being held hostage by a man known only as "The Duke" ("The Duke of New York, A-Number One" to you) played by 70's music man Isaac Hayes.

It becomes apparent that the prisoners of New York City have somehow organized themselves into some kind of pseudo-civilization. We learn they have their own gas and oil supply, they have their own generators with which to produce electricity, and it seems they have some kind of anarchy-built political system going in which the Duke assumes a leadership position and governs the masses through antagonistic means. It also appears that this collective no such thing as social class, as the people who hang around the Duke are just as disheveled as the people who line up on both sides of the road and throw things at cars traveling on Broadway.

(What about the U.N.? Where are THEY meeting now?)

They say this Duke's one bad mother--
Shut your mouth!
I'm talkin' about the Duke!
We can dig it!

Cabbie takes Snake to see a couple of his associates - Christine's Harry Dean Stanton and The Fog's Adrienne Barbeau playing Brain, a former colleague of Snake's who now runs his own oil rig in the basement of the New York Public Library, and his main squeeze Maggie, respectively. They reveal that the Duke is holding the President as collateral to orchestrate a jailbreak across the heavily mined 69th Street Bridge, and also take him to where he is being held (with a little coercion from Snake, I assure) only for him to caught by the Duke and his cohorts.

(No more Christmas trees at Rockefeller Center Plaza?)

This must be what it's like for the President whenever Congress is in session.

Hours pass so as to increase the tension of whether or not Snake will make it out of the prison with the President and save his life and conveniently wind the clock down so that the inevitable rescue will come down to the last minute. The Duke has Snake fight who looks like a Siberian bear wrestler for his amusement while Brain and Maggie suddenly decide that they're good guys and rescue the President, while Snake kills the dude he's wrestling and all of them meet up in Cabbie's taxi for a car chase between them and the Duke. Snake's new friends are all killed one at a time while navigating the minefiend at the 69th Street Bridge while leading the President to the perimeter wall, where once his safety is finally assured, he rains hot vengeful machine gun fire on the Duke, mocking all the way.

(So NBC just cancelled Saturday Night Live? Just like that?)

And THIS must be Congress in session.

As the President prepares for a televised speech to the summit he will now have to miss, the explosives in Snake's bloodstream are neutralized with seconds to spare, and after the President thanks him for saving his life (while snubbing the people who were killed in the process), publicly humiliates him by swapping a very important tape that was in the briefcase he was handcuffed to that had nuclear secrets on it or something for a recording of "Bandstand Boogie" that Cabbie was listening to throughout the film.

(Saks Fifth Avenue? F.A.O Schwarz? Where have THEY gone?)

"Brain, get that paper out of my face, I'm trying to drive here!
Mr. President, you stop kicking Maggie in the shin right now!
Don't you make me pull this car over! I SWEAR...!"

Escape from New York subscribes to a Family Guy-style system of characterization, in that it makes most of its characters so utterly unlikable that it's difficult to cheer for them. In Snake Plissken's case, it's perfectly all right - he's an anti-hero whose only motivation for being put in this protagonist position is the full pardon, AND the people who gave him the job made him a walking time bomb. He probably didn't even vote for the guy. Ironically, his badass factor does make him an action movie guy you can get behind, even though his total kill count is, like, TWO.

(What about the Macy's parade? Is there still even a Macy's?)

Everyone else I'm not really compelled to give two craps about. Brain kinda waffles between whether he wants to be on Snake's side or not until the last moment, Maggie doesn't really do much of anything until she tries to avenge Brain's death without success, President Pleasance turns out to be kind of a dick (which I could also give a pass in a Watergate-inspired movie), and as for Cabbie...okay, I kinda liked Cabbie. He was the fun one, even though he's got a bit of a mouth on him.

If I could recommend this movie for any reason, it's to see Kurt Russell as Snake Plissken, a man who is overqualified to enter the maximum-security hellhole of a city-sized penitentiary and come back out again with all his teeth, all his fingers and one and two-thirds functioning legs.

(Where's the ball gonna drop on New Year's Eve? ...oh, right, in their juvenile offender wing)

So what do we call you? "Snake" or "Plissken?" Or perhaps "sir", that works just as well.

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