Demolition Man (1993) — Future utopia unfreezes modern cop to chase a murderer

“Send a maniac to catch a maniac.”

Kyle’s rating: The greatest role of Sylvester Stallone’s career. Give this man an Oscar!

Kyle’s review: Look, Rocky is good, but it’s a fact of life and game show trivia that Sylvester Stallone isn’t going to be accepted into the pantheon of “distinguished actors” any time soon. Copland aside, most of his stuff (Cobra, Lock Up, and that movie about arm wrestling) is forgettable and useful largely in filling up TNT and TBS weekend programming.

However, this is not to say that Stallone doesn’t have a lot to offer in the realm of entertainment; like contemporaries Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger, Stallone has a charm and screen presence that can make a movie watchable, within reason of course (I think they show Stop, Or My Mom Will Shoot in prisons to real dregs of society as ultimate punishment). Tango and Cash is fun, but Stallone really makes his mark in Demolition Man.

Demolition Man sounds like the sort of action/sci-fi crap that clogs the “favorites” shelves at the video store, but with wonderful performances, a great blend of humor and action, well-written dialogue and story AND a song by Sting on the soundtrack, this flick towers above the rest and really should have swept the critic’s awards that year, though I’m sure there was some film about a blind amputee learning to play the piano while in a loveless marriage to an overbearing disgraced former-general-turned-arena-gladiator that was more deserving that year thick sarcasm ends.

The story is a standard sci-fi cookie cutter recyclable: Good guy (maverick cop) catches bad guy (homicidal genius madman) but gets framed in the process as bad guy’s revenge, and they both get cryogenically frozen to serve their time in stasis. But then when the bad guy mysteriously escapes to run rampant in a far-future crimeless utopia that lacks the resources to deal with the bad guy, the only hope is to also defrost the good guy who caught him in the process so he can have comical reactions to the future setting while doing serious shoot-‘em-up action with the bad guys and tossing around glib witticisms like there was no tomorrow, with a hot female sidekick and angry authority figures breathing down the good guy’s neck the whole way. It’s not very unique, is it? I saw a variation on this story that was made in the 1940s (called Destruction Man or something), so there you go.

What sets Demolition Man aside is that this is one of those great movies that is just pure fun on film and you can tell a lot of care and effort went into making this one great. Every little cliché (good guy surprised by future, the enlightened future socialites view him as a primitive relic, profanity is outlawed [no!]) is tweaked a little and treated with tongue firmly in cheek. Crappy Los Angeles has been transformed into utopian San Angeles. There’s future technology all about but the normal citizens treat it as second nature, instead of being all high and mighty about it so the audience’s attention is drawn and we loudly exclaim “ooh” and “ahh” in the theater, like certain films I could mention.

Did I mention how this movie is made by the performances? Stallone is the man of the hour (and a half, roughly) as John Spartan, the roughest toughest cop around kicking ass and taking names in war-torn Los Angeles. He’s a walking disaster, he’s nobody’s friend, he’s (known as the) Demolition Man. Spartan’s the only cop crazy enough to try to take down the diabolical Simon Phoenix (Wesley Snipes doing a great job playing his impression of The Joker) and he succeeds, but gets falsely busted in the process. In the future, after Phoenix escapes and Spartan is defrosted, future cop Lenina Huxley (the pure pre-Forces-of-Nature-ick-she-kissed-Ben-Affleck! Sandra Bullock) acts as his enthusiastic partner with a thing for the past and a willingness to try anything, even sex and violence, as least once. And not in that order!

So even if your girlfriend or you have a unspoken rule to never rent a Stallone movie, make an exception for Demolition Man. It’s well worth your trouble, and there’s plenty of humor, comedy, and good old fashioned violence for the entire family, nay, the whole community! And Denis Leary is in here, too, and gets the limelight for a few choice soliloquies on the fallibility of utopia and the benefit of smokes and steaks. What a world! Don’t forget to stay for the credits: any opportunity to hear a Sting song is time well spent. Enjoy one of the few Stallone films you shouldn’t be ashamed for liking!

Justin’s rating: I tried to wipe myself with three seashells once. Just once.

Justin’s review: The first thing that strikes you as funny about Demolition Man is that the opening scene is set in the “near future” of 1997 (the movie came out in 1993). L.A. has become a complete warzone (isn’t that always what happens?) and helicopter pilots laugh at how funny it was “way back when” they used to allow commercial flights to land there. This is typical to the skewed vision that the filmmakers have for the future, both near and far. It always slightly bugs me how filmmakers can think that two years in the future is enough time to radically change the landscape of life and technology as we know it.

Demolition Man, yet another homoerotic chase-and-battlefest between two Xtreme macho men, has many laughs to be found, most of which are aimed at the Xtreme stupidity of this film. Well, see, it’s not that bad. At first. At first, when John Spartan (Sly Stallone) gets to the “far” future of the mid-21st century, it’s easy to chuckle at the naive version of this strange new world. Everyone’s basically a dork, singing along to commercial jingles and spouting phrases like “joy joy” and “what’s your boggle” with smirking alacrity. The cars look nifty, everything looks clean and neat, swearing is illegal, and for some reason, Rob Sheider has been allowed to live.

Everything is built around the gag at how “our” 20th century man has to put up with this idiotic future. Aha, Taco Bell is the sole restaurant (and gee, isn’t that the most blatant product placement you’ve ever seen?). Aha, there’s no more toilet paper, and our guy doesn’t know how to clean house after a number two. Demolition Man throws all its creativity and cleverness at you in the first twenty minutes, and hopes you don’t mind that they recycle these jokes and ideas for the rest of the film.

What toasts my muffin is that the entire premise for this supposed future falls apart if a mere whiff of examining wind comes anywhere near it. If memory serves, the post-apocalyptic world of 2027 (or 2029) comes about because California has this major earthquake and then people get all nice afterward. Despite only being some 30 years in the future (and less every day), no one in this movie acts like they remember anything from the 20th century. Sandra Bullock collects ’90s memorabilia like they’re antiques or something.

People, 30 years ago isn’t the Far Distant Past, it’s the oldies station. The cuteness of this pristine future grates further when no one even remembers when the last person was murdered and no one has sex in the flesh either. That’s not remotely realistic, even for the usual stretch of believability that Hollywood asks us to partake in for such genre pieces.

Since no one in the future knows how to actually capture bad guys (don’t they have archived copies of America’s Most Wanted and COPS?), they unfreeze 20th century cop Spartan to catch 20th century bad guy with bad pants Simon Phoenix (Wesley Snipes). Now before we go any further in our lives, I think we all need to agree and petition that from this point on, NO GUY NAMED SIMON IN A MOVIE CAN USE THE PHRASE “SIMON SAYS” ANY LONGER. Spartan and Phoenix shoot and hit and run and jump and do the typical “ka-blammo” action routines. I can’t think of any interesting action sequences, except for a bit of deep freezing and shattering that predictably occurs.

So we have a choice to either pay attention to the action plotline or the future-in-crisis-for-stupidity plotline, and neither merits more than a quarter of your attention. I found Demolition Man sort of fun the first time around, but it’s one of those movies that has just grown increasingly worse as time goes by.

And, what is WITH every futuristic movie having future clothes made of future shiny metal cloth? Please! Explain!

PoolMan’s rating: Best pinball game EVER.

PoolMan’s review: College life for me was an interesting time. Sure, I worked hard, and I did relatively well with my classes, but being fresh from high school, it was my first exposure to an education where you were entirely responsible for yourself, and no one really cared whether you showed or not, so long as you paid your tuition. Hence, when I felt I was up and ahead in my studies, I would go hang around the campus arcade with some buddies. It was there that I had my first taste of Mortal Kombat, Magic: The Gathering (in the student hall), and Demolition Man Pinball. Man, that was the life.

The thing that made Demo Man such a great ball game was the fact that nearly every single line in the movie was in it! “Send a maniac to catch a maniac.” “Heads up!” “Two for the price of one!” It was like they planned the script around electronic entertainment instead of film. This is all to say that Demo Man is inextricably wound up in this beady little cranium of mine, even if for the wrong reasons. Thankfully, it’s also there for the right reasons; I LOVE this movie.

My girlfriend made the repeated comment that Sylvester Stallone can’t act. I was about to argue the point before I realized it’s pretty true. Sure, he can strap on boxing gloves/machine guns/headbands and go play the tough guy, but how much of that is ever really a stretch? It doesn’t really matter though, the guy’s just so fun to watch glide from scene to scene, utterly bewildered and yet never off balance. He has a good sense of humour, and can look macho when he needs to. What else do you need?

Between Kyle’s cheering (yay!) and Justin’s booing (um… boo!), the plot’s been pretty well laid out already, no need to rehash. The story is more complicated than Justin makes it out to be, to be fair. Although it takes so long to get to WHY Simon Phoenix is thawed out in the first place, I can see where you might get bored with the story. And yes, it’s pretty unrealistic to expect that a mere 30 or 40 years could create such a radical difference in human nature, but then again, Justin saw Back to the Future 2, and he still holds out hope that we’ll have hoverboards commercially available by 2015.

Demolition Man falls into my “I’d watch it pretty much any time” category. It full of good action pieces, it’s got a remarkably cute Sandra Bullock, and it’s funnier than hell. I don’t know if it’s date movie material, but at the very least, it’s worth a viewing to see what’s probably one of Sly’s best movies ever. And after Driven, I’m sure we’d all rather remember him this way.

Didja notice?

  • Profanity really has been outlawed in future San Angeles, as displayed when Spartan gets hit with fines for every profane word usage (including the memorable “I need toilet paper!” scene). Though this point is played up big early on, throughout the film whenever Spartan uses profanity you can hear his fine printing out in the background.
  • Huxley likes to use action witticisms from the past but always screws them up into vaguely sexual remarks instead.
  • In the future, the Top 40 hits are commercial jingles.
  • In the future, “boggle” = problem. I think.
  • Worst of all, in the future, Taco Bell is fine cuisine. I hope I die before I get old.
  • The “ray gun” used by Wesley Snipes in the Hall Of Weapons sequence is a Heckler & Koch G11, a prototype weapon for the West German army that would have been the most advanced rifle in the world, firing caseless ammunition (bullets, not death rays).
  • In the museum armoury, Simon Phoenix (Wesley Snipes) referred to one of the mannequins as Rambo, a character played by Sylvester Stallone in three earlier movies
  • “Lenina Huxley” is a reference to the character “Lenina Crowne”, a character in “Brave New World” by Aldous Huxley. At one point she says to John Spartan, “John, you’re a savage,” thus alluding to the Brave New World character John the Savage.
  • For some non-American releases, references to Taco Bell were changed to Pizza Hut. This includes dubbing, plus changing the logos during post-production. Taco Bell remains in the closing credits.
  • Many of the cars in the movie were prototypes of future models, supplied by General Motors.
  • A poster for Lethal Weapon 3 can be seen in Lenina Huxley’s office. Both films had Mark Poll as a set designer.
  • Phoenix holds a lit match six inches above a pool of gasoline, threatening to drop it. Gasoline itself isn’t flammable, but its fumes are. Holding a flame inches away from such a large puddle of gasoline would ignite the vapours.
  • What happened to Spartan’s daughter? It’s clear his wife died in the “Big One of 2010”, but as he inquires about his daughter, he’s interrupted, and it’s more or less forgotten. Truth is, there were several subplots filmed but cut out of the movie due to time constraints, including the killing of Zachary Lamb and the fate of Spartan’s daughter. At least we can rule out the often-theorized (and incredibly creepy) concept that Lenina is Spartan’s daughter, if for no other reason than she researched John Spartan’s family before he was thawed, and definitely did not know them.
  • I’m pretty sure one of the “retro” posters Huxley has in her office is the cover to Red Hot Chili Pepper’s BloodSugarSexMagik. Considering how prudish the future is, this would certainly be contraband in a police station.
  • Jackie Chan: the Ancient Master!
  • Simon Phoenix has one blue and one brown eye. (and some uuuuuuuugly hair)

One comment

  1. As for Spartan’s daughter, I think it was cut for time, or because they used all the budget on explosions. I stumbled across the novelisation ages ago, and there’s a small sub-plot that reveals that Spartan’s daughter was still alive, and choosing to live with the homeless population in order to stay off the grid. She’s supposed to be part of the protestors at the end.

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