The smoldering junkyard is the movie industry in the '80s, surely, John Carpenter the outsider seeing into the future -- the camera tilts up following the credits to reveal the Manhattan skyline behind a penitentiary wall, the first gag in the artist's wry political satire. "Now" is 1997, the crime rate is up 400 percent, the Island has become a new Alcatraz, policed by government helicopters; Air Force One is hijacked by radicals and crashed into a skyscraper, the U.S. President (Donald Pleasance) is whiskered away by the prisoners. Lee Van Cleef is in charge of the rescue mission, so recently arrived outlaw Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell, stubbly, growly, eye-patched) gets to glide in and sort through the rubble for the Man (the President has a tight schedule, so, along with an arsenal, Russell has time-bombs injected into his jugular). Debussy scores the hero's flight atop the World Trade Center, a sign reads "chock full o' nuts" as hordes of crazies are roused out of the underground; the drag show amid the graffiti recalls Grand Illusion and introduces swing-loving cabbie Ernest Borgnine, the first of the scrounging helpers picked up along the journey. Harry Dean Stanton runs an oil pump along the bookcases in the ravaged Public Library, Adrienne Barbeau keeps watch with scowl and cleavage -- all are recruited to retrieve Pleasance from Isaac Hayes, who as the Duke has an imperial frock coat and a pimpmobile decorated with disco debris. New York neighborhoods provide the central joke to the topography (gladiatorial bouts on Grand Central Station, Manhattan Bridge is mined, "What's wrong with Broadway?") as well as the axis of Carpenter's seditious activism. Marginalized masses are simply corralled out of sight by a fascist system, as payback the President is used for target practice -- anarchy explodes from within urban order, which, as Carpenter is to later expose, is Scotch-taped together with zombieish slogans. Lives are lost in the name of a national secret, "nuclear" something or other; the President declares "the nation appreciates the sacrifice," and Carpenter's loner unveils one final fuck-you, the reminder of a dynamic subversion scarcely dimmed into the Reagan years. With Tom Atkins, Charles Cyphers, Frank Doubleday, and Season Hubley.
--- Fernando F. Croce