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Demolition Man

Entry updated 8 December 2022. Tagged: Film.

Film (1993). Silver Pictures/Warner Bros. Directed by Marco Brambilla. Written by Daniel Waters, Robert Reneau, Peter M Lenkov, based on a story by Lenkov and Reneau. Cast includes Sandra Bullock, Bob Gunton, Nigel Hawthorne, Denis Leary, Wesley Snipes and Sylvester Stallone. 115 minutes. Colour.

In 1997 Los Angeles (see California), macho cop John Spartan (Stallone) – nicknamed "the demolition man" – is framed by his most recent arrestee, malicious supercriminal Simon Phoenix (Snipes), for the inadvertent manslaughter of a large group of hostages. Policeman and criminal are both sentenced to a cryoprison where they are frozen, and their frozen brains, in theory at least, are subjected to rehabilitation programs. About 35 years later an obviously unrehabilitated Phoenix is woken up for a parole hearing, escapes (through mysteriously knowing the code word that will unshackle him), and commits a series of murders in the peaceful utopia that Los Angeles, now San Angeles, has apparently become. Spartan is also brought back to life, by the meek and spineless future police force that can't cope with actual homicide. Spartan quickly discovers that Phoenix has been deliberately released by Cocteau (Hawthorne), the much loved dictator of this utopia, in order to dispose brutally of those rebels against the peace-and-love regime who eke out a life in the sewers. Spartan triumphs, and in so doing proves to be the mediator between the false tranquillity of the "eloi" style utopia (see H G Wells), and the all-too-human grunge of the (rather handsome) morlocks.

This is a strange blend of mildly sophisticated comedy, mainly satire at the expense of Californian new-age utopianism, and straightforward shoot-em-up action adventure. Screenwriter Waters was previously responsible for the black comedy Heathers (1989), and most of the often amusing if tasteless jokes (like a machine-mediated orgasm sequence, one of many borrowings from Sleeper [1973]) are presumably his. But unlike The Last Action Hero, a Schwarzenegger action Fantasy also made in 1993, this is no thoroughgoing deconstruction of the action movie, despite Stallone taking to knitting. Indeed, the film is disappointing in its refusal to take future utopian possibilities even remotely seriously, and in its easy assumption, familiar in Libertarian philosophy, that any attempt to channel or remove human violence will result in a doomed and static civilization. The film's moral is that social engineering must always be evil, and it takes a tough cop to prove it. [PN]


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