Escape from New York (1981, USA)

Escape from New York - Kurt Russell as Snake Plissken and Adrienne Barbeau as Maggie

In 1988 the crime rate in the US rises by 400% and New York City becomes the sole maximum-security prison for the entire country, with a 50-foot containment wall around Manhattan Island and its bridges and waterways mined. The prison has no guards. And just one rule, apparently: ‘Once you go in, you don’t come out.’ Which sort of defeats the need for a prison, doesn’t it? If the prisoners are never coming out, why would a ruthless Government sacrifice New York to keep them alive?

And that’s where it lost me, before a single gunpowder whiff of action. Why would you put the country’s entire prison population in New York?  What do they eat?  Do they grow crops in Central Park?  How do they generate power? And why, if there are so many (ravenous) prisoners that they need a prison the size of New York, would the streets be virtually empty?  Why not Key Largo or Martha’s Vineyard? And where have all the displaced non-criminal New Yorkers gone?

It’s now way, way out in the future – 1997 – and the plane carrying US President (Donald Pleasence) has crash landed on Manhattan. It’s too dangerous for law enforcement agencies to go in there, so they offer Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell) – ex-Special Forces, recent armed robber, current sporty-eye-patch-wearer and life sentence server – the chance to secure his freedom by rescuing the President within 24 hours. Make that 22. The President, you see, is about to address an important summit on nuclear fusion and world peace depends on it. To incentivise Snake, explosives are implanted in his neck and set to go off if not deactivated within the 22-hour limit.

Snake, accordingly, has all sorts of time-pressured adventures. He meets a cabbie (Ernest Borgnine) who reintroduces him to an old partner-in-crime (and now prison-strategist) Brain (Harry Dean Stanton) and his partner Maggie (Adrienne Barbeau), who then in turn lead him to ‘The Duke of New York’ (Isaac Hayes), the prison kingpin who is holding the Pres to ransom.

Snake tries really hard to save the President, and his own skin, but runs out of time and has his arteries blown out. No? OK, he gets into all sorts of trouble but gets the job done with literally seconds to go. Who would have thought?

There’s nothing very much prisonny about this movie, really, although Snake’s gratuitous fight with a much larger opponent could pass for a standard prison flick cliché. And the Lord of the Flies-type prison scenario is done much better in Terra Nova (2011).

In one nice piece of synchronicity, however, New York looks like a bomb has hit it, and Escape from… could easily be that bomb.

Escape from New York #2 - Donald Pleasence as the President Escape from New York #3 - Isaac Hayes as The Duke, Harry Dean Stanton as Brain and Adrienne Barbeau as Maggie

Posted on May 12th, 2013 at 6:44 pm. Updated on May 12th, 2013 at 6:44 pm.

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