Movie Review: Demolition Man
Rating: R (violence and strong language)
Length: 115 minutes
Release Date: October 8, 1993
Directed By: Marco Brambilla
Stars: 3 out of 5
Like some other science fiction action films, "Demolition Man" weaves together social commentary and thrilling action sequences. The 1993 thriller starring Sylvester Stallone and Wesley Snipes is also brimming with humor and throws some great one-liners into the mix.
The film is set in San Angeles, a crime-free city of the future that was formed by the merger of San Diego, Santa Barbara, and Los Angeles. Its story centers on John Spartan (Sylvester Stallone) who is called upon to catch a recently escaped villain, Simon Phoenix (Wesley Snipes). Phoenix was cryogenically frozen in 1996 as punishment for killing hostages in Los Angeles and has been terrorizing San Angeles since he was thawed. Spartan, who was a police officer in 1996, was also sentenced to cryo-prison for failing to stop Phoenix. Now in 2032, the criminal and the cop are once again playing cat-and-mouse.
The movie shows Phoenix breaking into a museum to find a weapon in this crime-free future. Phoenix then sees the mayor of San Angeles, Dr. Raymond Cocteau (Nigel Hawthorne), and attempts to shoot him. It is at this point the Cocteau reveals the reason Phoenix was released from cryo-prison: to kill Edgar Friendly, the leader of an underground resistance movement in San Angeles. Friendly's movement, named the Scraps, consists of refugees and other people the city deems undesirable.
John Spartan, otherwise known as the Demolition Man, is released to combat Phoenix. However, Phoenix has his own plans: to free all of the criminals incarcerated in the cryo-prison. Spartan and his partner Lenina Huxley (Sandra Bullock) discover that Cocteau has programmed Phoenix to be even more dangerous after his release from prison than he was before.
Spartan and Phoenix end up in an epic battle inside of the prison. An associate of Phoenix's kills Cocteau, since Phoenix has been programmed not to kill the mayor, and Spartan eventually defeats Phoenix by freezing him solid with the prison's cryogenic equipment. The equipment overloads and destroys the prison just after Spartan manages to escape relatively unscathed. The local police and the Scraps both appear on the scene after the prison is destroyed, and Spartan suggests that they compromise to find a better way to run their society. Then he and Huxley, who predictably develop something of a romance throughout the film, essentially ride off into the sunset.
The film has received mixed reviews, but some of these fail to consider that it was never intended as serious social commentary. Much of the social satire in the film is tongue-in-cheek, as some of the character names suggest: Phoenix quite literally rises again and Spartan fights like a warrior throughout the film. The leader of the underground resistance is named Friendly, in stark contrast to the dictatorship that the resistance opposes.
Part of what makes "Demolition Man" stand out, for better or for worse, is that it is essentially a science fiction action comedy. There are many high-impact action sequences, but there is also a lot of humor. For example, Wesley Snipes' character refers to himself in the third person, uttering phrases such as, "Simon says, 'Bleed.'" Another running gag throughout the movie is Lenina Huxley's failure to understand phrases that were common in the 1990s. Her job is to misquote, and Stallone's character must correct her. Stallone seems to enjoy playing comedic characters, and he does a good job of combining action with laughs in this film.
Sylvester Stallone and Wesley Snipes were two of the biggest names in action films in the 1990s, so it was a treat for fans to see the two play off of each other. "Demolition Man" also appealed to audiences because of its cast full of celebrity names. Dennis Leary, Jack Black, Benjamin Bratt, Jesse Ventura, and Rob Schneider all appear at different points in the film.
Anyone looking for a big-action, explosive film will not be disappointed in "Demolition Man." It may not have the same reputation as "Die Hard" or "Rambo," but for action film fans, "Demolition Man" delivers on several fronts. It has the star power that many fans demand, it is loaded with big-budget action scenes, and it is full of one-liners that movie buffs still quote two decades after its release. Fans of science fiction or action should make sure to check this movie off of the must-watch list, if only for the camp factor.