Escape from New York

Escape From New York. Goldcrest Films International 1981.
Escape From New York. Goldcrest Films International 1981.

Before watching the movie:

I’ve been meaning to see this for a while now, but I kept finding the sequel and not this one. So New York is a prison/wasteland, and Kurt Russell has to get in and get out. That’s pretty much it. About fifteenish years in the future, basically the present but with slightly better tech and more ridiculous premises.

After watching the movie:

It’s 1997, and the United States has long ago converted the entire island of Manhattan into the single national prison. Nobody who goes to New York leaves. Air Force One gets hijacked by terrorists on the way to a diplomatic summit, forcing the President to bail out in an escape pod carrying a cassette tape with vital information the Russians and Chinese need to hear, but when prison guards arrive at the crash site, they find that he’s been taken hostage by the top gang leader in New York. With only 24 hours to rescue the President and deliver the tape, the warden decides to take a risk on Manhattan’s newest inmate, Snake Plissken: former Special Forces officer turned bank robber. If Snake successfully rescues the President, he receives a full pardon. But if he fails to return within the time limit, his carotid arteries are rigged to explode.

This is bonkers-level camp, but it’s camp from the moment the opening titles end, so it’s just a hilarious cheesefest. It spells out half the premise in text cards, and it’s too flimsy to bother taking seriously. Within a decade after the movie came out, it asserts that crime will quadruple with no given reason, therefore the only sensible course of action was to empty the nation’s most populous city, build a wall around it, and dump the entire country’s criminal population there. Snake is going to prison because he robbed a bank for no apparent reason. The reason is because otherwise there wouldn’t be a movie, and you wouldn’t get to watch Kurt Russell run around in an eye patch and tank top and shoot bad guys, that’s why.

Once the plot gets going the silliness dies down a bit. I enjoyed Snake’s nihilist apathy in the beginning, but once he starts accumulating allies, his apathy turns into pragmatism, which isn’t as funny. Nonetheless, everyone fully commits to their over the top characters, Russell among them. One of the most down-to-earth characters is Ernest Borgnine playing basically the same character he usually does but set in an urban wasteland, casually tossing Molotovs at maurauders while eagerly chatting in Snake’s direction, which should give an indication of the realism in characterization. Even so, there was still plenty of camp to enjoy along the way.

There’s so little else to this movie I don’t have much else to say. Nothing works by normal standards, but everything works by its own. It’s not a comedy, but it’s in on its own joke. It’s so foreign to anything I would usually watch I can’t appraise it by anything other than the fact that I liked it for all the reasons I usually wouldn’t.

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