Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

Demolition Man


Every once in a great while a movie really, really surprises me. The only reason I watched this was that I was in the mood for a little brainless action. And I got it … but right in the middle of all that noise and flash something unexpected broke out: About two-thirds of a really good movie!

It’s the distant future of 1996, and Sylvester Stallone is one of those cops who goes ahead and gets things done in spite of things like civil rights and idiot bosses. He is trying to bring down psychopath Wesley Snipes (really chewing the sets in every scene he is in), who has taken over all of South Central L.A., and has thirty hostages in a big building, when it all goes wrong. He gets his man, but the hostages die. They are both sentenced to sixty years of cryonic suspension. (Yeah, right, they learned to do this in only three years. Would it have hurt them to set the beginning in, say, 2015? Oh, well, never mind.) But when Snipes is thawed out for a parole hearing in 2036, he manages to escape. Soon, Stallone is thawed out to hunt him down.

And boy, do they need him! The city of San Angeles (an urban complex stretching from San Diego to Santa Barbara) has been gentled down into a non-violent state that even the sorriest wimp from 1996 could dominate like a pit bull among toy poodles. Anything that is bad for you is illegal, including swearing. (Every time Snipes or Stallone say “fuck” or “shit” a speech monitor on the wall says they have just been fined one credit, and dispenses an obscenity ticket.) People speak in a hilariously stilted language—there is no word for “murder”—call each other by their full names, and have sex via VR helmets. Personal contact is icky.

The cops are a joke. They are stunned and repulsed by the level of violence Snipes, and later, Stallone, bring to their fair city. They simply cannot deal with it … except for Sandra Bullock, who is nostalgic for the 20th century and has read up on it. But when she tries to employ 20th slang and figures of speech, she always screws it up. It is very funny, how she cheerfully goes along with everything, because she admires Stallone so much. And she is the only cop in town with any balls at all.

Stallone isn’t afraid of making fun of himself. He’s a fish out of water in this world. Mention is made of the Schwarzenegger Presidential Library, and his reaction is priceless. While frozen, he was implanted with a skill to help him get by when awakened, and he is stunned to learn that he now is a world-class knitter. But what the hell? He knits a lovely sweater for Bullock.

These scenes are chock-full of satire, enough to make me laugh out loud frequently. The production design is terrific. Costumes, locations (including the Pacific Design Center, one of our favorite buildings in L.A.), sets, and cars are all fantastically well done. The cars, in particular, are mostly prototypes and concept cars, and look just right.

Then (sigh), there are the action scenes. If you like that sort of thing, it’s all here in all its mind-numbing dumbness. Outrunning explosions (twice), the usual automatic weapons that can’t hit anything (numerous times), the skull-crunching fistfights that no one could possible survive, the falls no one could possibly survive … you know the drill. It’s well-done, for what it is, but of course what it is is stupid. The only reasonably good action sequence is a car chase with Bullock at the wheel of an antique 1970 Oldsmobile 442. For the 1000th time we see the interior of the most photographed tunnel in the world, at 2nd Street and Hill. (I sometimes think this tunnel must be closed every night so somebody can film a car chase or commercial. There has to be a waiting list.)

But silly as the action scenes are, you can put your brain in cryostorage while they’re happening, and thaw yourself out when the good stuff starts again. There is enough of it to make this movie more than worth your while. In particular, Sandra Bullock is just amazing. You gotta love her. This was done the year before her breakout role in Speed, and from then on it was top billing all the way.