By Christian DiMartino
The first time I saw Demolition Man, I couldn’t tell if it was brilliant, or stupid. Turns out, audiences back in 1993 didn’t quite know what to make of it either. It’s an action film, with a great big splash of silly. Was it unintentionally silly, or was its tongue planted, quite firmly, in its cheek?
The answer is: I think its tongue is very much in its cheek. Yet if it isn’t, honestly, I do not care. Because even during my first experience viewing it, it was a film that I found to be immensely enjoyable. In the years since, I have seen it a plethora of times, and while it may not be a “great movie,” it is one that I kinda, sorta, love.
To me, if you watch Demolition Man with the mindset that it’s a satire, more than likely, the joke will click, as it did with me. Here is a film that is, truly, genuinely funny. Perhaps the filmmakers decided to turn it into a comedy somewhere during the development, but the final result is a giddy, often hilarious blast that… actually has something to say, in terms of the society we currently live in. Well, minus the three sea shells.
In the grand tradition of Sylvester Stallone’s mucho macho names- Lincoln Hawk, Deke DeSilva, John Rambo, Rocky Balboa- in Demolition Man he plays John Spartan, an LA Cop hellbent on taking down the psychotic madman Simon Phoenix (Wesley Snipes). It’s very strange to think that, until about 2014 or so, I had never seen a single Wesley Snipes movie. I do not know what drugs he was on during the making of Demolition Man, but this is one of the most enjoyably cartoonish villains we may ever see. Seriously. Every absurd line that is delivered here from Snipes is just wonderful.
1996 LA, as pictured here, is kind of a hellhole, with fires in the streets and what not. It is a prime venue for a Stallone action film. As the film opens, Spartan finally captures Phoenix… while also accidentally killing multiple people because he was too busy focused on stopping Phoenix. So the two of them are cryogenically frozen. Flash forward to the 2040’s or so, and Phoenix is finally let loose. The world is a little different now though. Violence and crime is basically a thing of the past. Whenever Phoenix begins wreaking havoc and harming people, the police do not know what to do because they have never been trained for such a thing. So they unfreeze Spartan, and he must race against the clock to stop Phoenix once more. Other significant changes in the future: every restaurant is Taco Bell. Sexual intercourse has been replaced with some sort of VR mind trip. Toilet paper has been replaced by three seashells- how these are used may forever remain a mystery. Using profanity results in a fine. Not to mention, classic music has been replaced by… hot dog jingles.
All of this sounds pretty ridiculous, and it is. Yet in some ways, this movie did get some of its predictions correct. To me though, this film works so well because it’s essentially an over-the-top action movie… that is also sort of making fun of action movies. It’s filled with a number of cornily perfect one-liners, but in this case, the rest of the movie isn’t taking itself too seriously, so you’re free to laugh at them, as the actors probably did after the cameras stopped rolling.
Snipes is a big ball of fun here, as mentioned previously, but he is not alone. I have mentioned in my previous “Stallone Saturdays” segments that Stallone can be funny. This was the film that came to mind. Here, he is playing his usual character, but he also appears to be in on the joke. The way he plays off of Snipes is a pleasure, but the way that he plays off of Sandra Bullock is also a delight.
In one of her first movies, Bullock plays a futuristic cop named Lenina Huxley, and the running joke with the police officers here is that they pretty much remain giddy. Huxley is a real charmer though, and it always helps to have Bullock on board. Huxley consistently says people’s full names (I dare you to attempt a drinking game. You won’t get far, believe me). There is also an on-going joke throughout the film in which Huxley consistently screws up common expressions, such as, “You can take this job, and shovel it!,” or, “It looks like there’s a new shepherd in town.” To which Spartan consistently corrects her. These scenes, along with just Stallone’s facial expressions in general, remind me that for all of his comedic duds, he is a man of many talents.
Demolition Man is not a masterpiece, but it’s a real ball.