LAMB Movie of the Month: Demolition Man Review

Ever since I joined the LAMB last year, I’ve wanted to do something for the Movie of the Month feature. However, since I joined I’ve either not had the time to get a post done or I’ve not been able to get hold of the movie in time. This month though, Jay Cluitt of Life vs. Film had his choice of Demolition Man win, which is a film that I already have and have seen a number of times so I can write about it. It also helps that I really enjoy this film.
The plot of the film concerns John Spartan, the most over-the-top police officer imaginable who causes so much destruction that he’s nicknamed the Demolition Man. After he’s framed for murder by criminal Simon Fenix, he’s put in cryo-prison and frozen until 2032 when Fenix, who was also frozen, escapes during a parole hearing and Spartan is unfrozen to capture him. However, the society he wakes up in has become the ultimate politically correct nightmare where there is no crime, no violence and, worst of all, advert songs have become the main form of music. What I love about this is that it turns what could be a very generic action film into a brilliant satire of the extremes of political correctness by conjuring up a world where there is no personal freedom to create the perfect society. I also like the little nods here and there to other works about how bad utopian societies can get with a lack of personal freedom, the most obvious drawing point being from Brave New World, especially through Sandra Bullock’s character being named Lenina Huxley, after author of Brave New World Aldous Huxley and the main female character of the book Lenina Crowne, along with other references such as the characters from the past being referred to as savages for their free personal lives and the whole society of Brave New World being based around happiness and making sure that no-one is offended or steps out of line. While the culture clash between Spartan and the society of San Angeles could have gotten boring, the writing in these scenes is so good that it’s consistently funny, aided by the actors going all in with the characters and the world. There are some holes in the story however, Spartan being framed for the crime doesn’t make sense, mainly since there were 2 other officers with him who saw that the hostages weren’t in the building destroyed at the start of the film, it doesn’t make sense for Edgar Friendly (a freedom fighter against the utopian society, who often arranges raids on San Angeles for food) to stay in the sewers under the city, mainly since we don’t know if the utopia expanded past the city and Dr Cocteau’s plan to assassinate Friendly, while making sense in theory, does fall apart when he forgets to give the same Directive 4 he gave to Fenix to the criminals Fenix asked to be awoken to help him. Despite the plotholes though, the satirical elements of the story push it above the typical nonsense present in Stallone films at the time.

The acting in the film is what helps sell the plot. Sylvester Stallone is perfectly cast as Spartan, someone who is determined to do his job, even if it means causing millions of dollars worth of property damage to do so. His reactions to San Angeles are perfect for the character and represent the audience’s view of the world. As Huxley, Sandra Bullock does a good job, she works well with Stallone and sells the enthusiastic nature of the character throughout the film, even if the enthusiasm comes at the wrong moments. Wesley Snipes is a great villain as Fenix. Despite how ridiculous his costume design is, you can tell Fenix is a threat throughout the film because of Snipes’ presence and fighting ability and it’s clear that Snipes is having a lot of fun going so over-the-top in the utopia. As Dr Cocteau, Nigel Hawthorne is brilliant, selling the, as Fenix puts it, “evil Mr Rogers” nature of the character through his calm voice and demeanor throughout the film. Dennis Leary is also perfectly cast as Friendly. Since Leary was one of the most vocal critics of political correctness at the time through his stand-up, his rants about the San Andreas society feel a lot like Leary’s real feelings about the political correctness of the 1990’s, in fact his rant to Spartan about San Andreas contains word-for-word the rants he used in his stand-up at the time. There are also small but memorable performances from Benjamin Bratt, Bill Cobbs, Bob Gunton and Glenn Shadix and I’m incredibly thankful that Rob Schneider is only in one scene, I mean can you imagine how bad a film which pairs Stallone and Schneider together for most of the running time could be.

The technical aspects of the film are also really good. The set design and cinematography for San Angeles is excellent, really nailing the utopian society and the changes in technology, especially with the police station and the museum. There are also little things in the design of the film I like, such as the foam which replaces airbags in 2032 and the automatic graffiti remover. The action scenes in the film are also really well directed, especially the one-on-one fights between Stallone and Snipes, really showing off the brilliant fight choreography and the skill of the actors. The only negative aspect I can find for the technical side of the film is with the music which is pretty forgettable, with the exception of the remix of The Police song Demolition Man over the credits.

Overall, I really enjoy Demolition Man. Sure it’s silly, cliche ridden and over-the-top but, all these elements are done really well, the action scenes are brilliant, the actors give everything they can to their roles and the satirical elements of the film hold up as well today as they did back in 1993 and help make Demolition Man probably the funnest action film of the period.

My Rating: 4/5

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