Directed by Marco Brambilla (Directorial Debut)
After a disastrous attempt to rescue hostages from Simon Phoenix (Wesley Snipes), Phoenix and his pursuer John Spartan (Sylvester Stallone) are both sentenced to be cryogenically frozen. When Phoenix is thawed for a parole hearing and escapes, Spartan is revived to stop him.
This is quite possibly one of Sylvester Stallone’s better films that does not contain “Rocky” or “Rambo” in the title and is most assuredly a science fiction action classic. John Spartan is a super cop to the extreme. He is Schwarzenegger of the era by a factor of 12. Nicknamed “The Demolition Man” for the destruction that follows him, he is a force of nature yet remains a cop.
Stallone specializes in playing larger than life characters onscreen. No matter the character, they are grander than anything else around them. Spartan is no different. Considering this is a super cop going against a super criminal you need an actor that can pull it off.
Demolition Man is the movie that brought Sandra Bullock to the attention of the world in the role of Lenina Huxley. It was not the breakthrough that came from her role in Speed, but it certainly put her on everyone’s radar. She was the token girlfriend for all intents and purposes but managed to make it into something more which became a steppingstone to stardom. And I do not think anybody else could have pulled the part off as well as her. Huxley was innocent without being moronic. Naïve without being stupid. She was someone who nostalgically wished for another time.
In this future, the world is at peace. There is no violence. And the state of things is all from the efforts of the benevolent Doctor Raymond Cocteau (Nigel Hawthorne). Hawthorne gives the character a false kindness in his interactions. He is friendly but only because that is what he is supposed to be and not what he actually is.
Wesley Snipes is just amazing as Simon Phoenix. The guy is a much better villain actor than he is a good guy actor. Simon Phoenix is just all over the top murderous crazy, but you still somehow find yourself kind of cheering for him. That is no easy thing to get the audience to do. He makes the mayhem fun.
Phoenix was defrosted to kill the de facto leader of the Scraps who is a man named Edgar Friendly (Denis Leary). I am not sure how much movie work he had done by this time but he was great here. He basically brought his stand-up persona the screen and it was magic. Once he was cast, they rewrote the part to allow Leary to rant.
Something that this movie makes clear is that we lose something if we become too pacified. Everybody eats healthy and does not swear under penalty of being fined and good Lord does not even engage in sex (at least not like we do now). There is no passion. This society just goes through the motions.
Not to get too heavy here but this is a world that a psychopath would function very well in. The rules and reactions would be clearly defined and for a psychopath who cannot react like a normal human, they could just do as expected with no real meaning behind it all. Does this mean Cocteau is a psychopath seeking to make his life easier by removing the last bit of resistance to his society? Did I just make this movie waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay darker?
The world has been divided into a utopia for all those willing to conform but for those unwilling to play ball and instead do as they choose and retain freedom, they are not allowed to participate. They live in the sewers and scavenge for food. They make rat burgers and drink beer. Considering these people are struggling for food, where do they get what they need for beer? It seems like a waste of resources. Do not think too deeply at points in this movie.
The three seashells is probably one of the best known and often referenced things from this movie. There are people always asking what the three seashells are about. I remember reading they are not about anything. There is no proper use in mind. They were a joke dreamed up by someone while in a restroom when they spotted a decorative bag of seashells.
Casting always makes a movie. Steven Segal was originally to be John Spartan with Jean-Claude Van Damage, er, Damme as Simon Phoenix. Van Damme I am good with, but Segal is just a terrible choice. Whatever happened behind the scenes happened and Stallone was cast with him wanting to cast his good friend Jackie Chan as Phoenix. Chan passed and they pursued Snipes who eventually agreed. Lori Petty, who I love, was originally cast as Lenina Huxley but was let go a few days into filming and replaced by Bullock. This film was almost so very different. I am not sure how watchable it might have been with any combination of the possible cast. Sometimes the might-have-been cast is intriguing if not equally as good as what we eventually get, but here while the choices are interesting they are ultimately not as good as what the end result is.
Fun fact. Taco Bell is not the restaurant that survived the Franchise Wars in all regions the film was released. The restaurant was changed to Pizza Hut in other markets since at the time Taco Bell was not well known outside of the U.S. Reportedly such localization of product placement was a first here.
The story is solid and filled with a little bit of commentary on what the endpoint of the goals some people have. You can call it a comical viewpoint of an overreaction to human issues. Some have even claimed social commentary with the conformists be the haves and the Scraps being the have nots. Commentary on social stratification in a mid-90s action film? Wow!
This is definitely more an action comedy than it is a serious effort though. The writer was just trying to have fun with an out of time cop and his equally displaced foe. I think any commentary present accidentally crept in as production went along or could be projected onto the story by viewers from their own views.
Demolition Man is a great work a science fiction action. It can be taken as a fun ride or a fun ride with some commentary. There is something special about this film that has managed to keep people coming back and talking about it decades later. Watch it!