Demolition Man: Actioner Starring Sly Stallone and Wesley Snipes

Though not as insufferable as Last Action Hero, Demolition Man is a similar kind of film: a noisy, soulless, self-conscious pastiche that mixes elements of sc-fic, action-adventure, and romance and then pours on a layer of comedy replete with Hollywood inside jokes.

Starring Sylvester Stallone and Wesley Snipes, and casting a woman in a major role, this incoherent concoction aims to appeal to all viewers, but ultimately falls short of satisfying any segment.

Set in Los Angeles in l996, the impressive pre-credits sequence gets right to business when it contrasts LAPD Sgt. John Spartan (Sylvester Stallone) with his nemesis Simon Phoenix (Wesley Snipes). Nicknamed “Demolition Man,” Stallone is trying to save 30 hostages held by the psychopathic Snipes in a heavily armed compound. As a result of their fight, the whole area goes in flames and Stallone is convicted of involuntary manslaughter and sentenced to 70 years of “rehabilitation,” as a frozen inmate of CryoPenitentiary, California’s heavily guarded prison.

Story then jumps to 2032, when Snipes is thawed from his cryogenic state for a mandatory parole hearing and orchestrates an ingenious escape. He finds himself in San Angeles, a kinder and gentler L.A., now run by the elegant and dictatorial Mayor/Governor Dr. Raymond Cocteau (Nigel Hawthorne), whose vision is to make the city “a beacon of order.”

Most of the absurdist jokes are situated in this sub-plot, which depicts L.A. as clean, safe city, where the police is ill-equipped to deal with violence and the worst crime is graffiti that defaces “Ethical Plaza.” In this “perfect” future, life is sterile and totally devoid of joy–people eat no meat, refrain from smoking, and have no sex. Communication is mostly impersonal, via computers that have quiet, soothing voices, and there are severe penalties for using foul language. The place to spend a nice evening is Taco Bell, “the only restaurant that survived the franchise war.”

But the new existence is terribly boring, particularly for a feisty personality like Lenina Huxley (Sandra Bullock), an attractive police officer desperate for some action. An expert of the past and convinced that only one man can be a match for Snipes’ criminal mastermind, she arranges for the release of the “barbarian savage” Stallone from prison.

Some of the romantic exchanges between Stallone and Bullock are genuinely amusing, including “virtual reality” sex, and a scene in which Stallone, in what amounts to spoofing his macho image, is knitting her a sweater. Daniel Waters, Robert Reneau and Peter Lenkov’s uneven script also contains one nasty, somehow ironic quip about Arnold Schwarzenegger, Stallone’s competitor, alluding to “Schwarzenegger’s presidential library.”

However, underlying this mishmash of a movie, is a sticky, nostalgic right-wing ideology that clings to the good ‘ol days, when a kiss was a kiss, men were men, and strong old-fashioned avengers a la Stallone could resolve all societal problems with physical force and heroic personality.

First-time helmer Marco Brambilla reveals his TV commercials background in both the positive and negative aspects of the film. The screen is flushed with blue lighting, the pacing is swift, and there is a lot of montage and fast cutting. However, most of the action set-pieces are poorly staged: Keeping the camera too close to the fights and chases, the viewers never get a sense of the space or where Stallone and Snipes stand in relation to each other.

Wesley Snipes, who over the last three years has proven himself to be one of the most versatile actors of his generation, is too gifted to be playing such a one-dimensional villain. Yet sporting short blond hair and given one blue and one green eye, Snipes brings his customary vibrant energy to the schematic role.

As for Stallone, he is not as embarrassing in delivering his comic lines as he was in his previous outings (Oscar, Stop! Or My Mom will Shoot). But as Cliffhanger showed again this past summer, the less Stallone talks the more effective he is as an action hero.

The real star of Demolition Man is neither Stallone nor Snipes but the high-tech, metallic look, created by production designer David L. Snyder and his accomplished team. The new film is a veritable compilation of such landmark sci-fi and actioners as Aliens, Star Trek, Blade Runner, and also inspired by the imagery–and some ideas–of Fritz Lang’s expressionist masterpiece, Metropolis.

As a comic-book adventure, the humor in Demolition Man works better than in Last Action Hero, but the witty lines become progressively scarce as the story moves along. If the design and look of the film (aptly lensed by Alex Thomson) is always fun to watch, what’s badly missing is a guiding intelligence to lift this disjointed pic from its derivative status.