Clearly undecided about whether to be a loud movie or a dopey movie, “Demolition Man” (citywide) has ended up being both a loud movie and a dopey movie, a resolution that does not give the art of compromise a very good name.
Starring Sylvester Stallone and Wesley Snipes as a cop and a criminal (guess which is which) whose rivalry extends deep into the future, “Demolition Man” was intended at one time to do no more than live up to its R rating “for nonstop action violence and for strong language.”
And when the film begins, in the terminally chaotic Los Angeles of 1996, it seems “Demolition Man” will be testosterone-driven enough to make “Cliffhanger” look like the movie version of “Remembrance of Things Past.”
Stallone is LAPD Sgt. John Spartan, the umpteenth take-no-prisoners cop who allows nothing to get in the way of his rescue of the innocent. The innocent this time around are 30 hostages happy-go-lucky psychopath Simon Phoenix (Snipes in dyed-blond hair) has hidden away in a deserted warehouse in an urban war zone.
As staged by Marco Brambilla, a commercial director making his theatrical debut, Spartan’s rescue mission is an impressive action sequence that features enough body blows and explosions to incapacitate an army.
The rescue attempt goes awry, however, and both Phoenix and Spartan end up being put into spanking new cryonic prisons, frozen into blocks of ice for a very long time. Unfortunately for action fans (we know you’re out there), the movie itself pretty much goes into the deep freeze as far as mayhem is concerned, making do with penny-ante action sequences until the finale more than an hour down the road.
In place of battles, “Demolition Man” unaccountably offers a goofball piece of science-fiction parody, a played-for-laughs version of life in the year 2036 that presents a society so harmonious, its people seem next door to brain dead.
Under the leadership of Mayor/Gov. Raymond Cocteau (Nigel Hawthorne), the principality of San Angeles has recovered from both disease and earthquake devastation and become a land of peace, love and understanding. Except for the grungy Scraps, rebels who live underground, citizens are little more than walking happy faces, content to say things like “all is serene” and “mellow greetings” to each other and live by Cocteau’s squeaky-clean rules.
So, when Simon Phoenix unaccountably gets defrosted and goes on a crime rampage, no one in San Angeles has a clue how to handle him except Barbie-doll police lieutenant Lenina Huxley (Sandra Bullock). She suggests thawing out Spartan as well, and soon enough he and Phoenix are trading bullets and baleful looks just like the bad old days.
Though the original story for “Demolition Man,” such as it is, is credited to Peter M. Lenkov and Robert Reneau, the half-baked satiric sense of humor of the science-fiction sequences is doubtless the responsibility of the third credited screenwriter, Daniel Waters.
After the success of the anarchic “Heathers,” Waters’ career took a curious turn. He became the house wit of over-budget action movies, providing a layer of fatuous humor for “Hudson Hawk,” “Batman Returns” and now this. Though some of the jokes in “Demolition Man” are actually funny, its quasi-facetious tone is overall more trying than entertaining.
As for the acting, there is not much of it. Nigel Hawthorne, the hottest actor in London off his stage performance in “The Madness of George III,” seems barely awake here, and Snipes spends much of his time laughing, presumably at how much money he’s getting paid for so little acting. As for Stallone, with so much silliness going on all around him, you actually miss his reliable figure when he’s off the screen.
The only other thing of interest about “Demolition Man” is the various ways it steals from “Blade Runner,” presumably even shooting a chase in downtown’s 2nd Street tunnel as a kind of homage. Those hungry for futuristic action dramas would be well advised to watch that film on video or laser disc and leave “Demolition Man” to self-destruct on its own.
Sylvester Stallone: John Spartan
Wesley Snipes: Simon Phoenix
Sandra Bullock: Lenina Huxley
Nigel Hawthorne: Dr. Raymond Cocteau
A Silver Pictures production, released by Warner Bros. Pictures. Director Marco Brambilla. Producers Joel Silver, Michael Levy, Howard Kazanjian. Executive producers Steven Brattner, Faye Schwab. Screenplay Daniel Waters, Robert Reneau, Peter M. Lenkov, based on a story by Peter M. Lenkov, Robert Reneau. Cinematographer Alex Thomson. Editor Stuart Baird. Costumes Bob Ringwood. Music Elliot Goldenthal. Production design David L. Snyder. Art director Walter Paul Martishius. Set decorators Robert Gould, Etta Leff. Running time: 1 hour, 55 minutes.
MPAA-rated R (nonstop action violence, and for strong language).