Some bad movies are guilty pleasures, and some are just bad. Demolition Man, unfortunately, lands with a resounding thud squarely in the latter category. Despite so many elements that could have worked in its favor, the movie ultimately falls apart due in no small part to a woefully convoluted, meandering script combined with some incredibly bad acting. Now, I enjoy me some brainless action movies, but sometimes I come across one that is just too awful to recommend to anyone. And even though I had high hopes for Demolition Man to be, at the very least, enjoyable or fun if only for its value as mindless entertainment, it turned out to be so terrible that only a good Deathstalkering could save it. Oh Mike, Crow, Tom Servo…where art thou when I need thee?
The opening fifteen minutes of the movie are a paint-by-numbers of action movie cliches, but True Lies this is not. Demolition Man actually seems to take itself seriously, even as Sylvester Stallone, playing John *cough* Spartan, rappels from a helicopter into a building where insane evil mastermind Simon Phoenix (Wesley Snipes) is holed up with a couple dozen hostages. And like a checklist, the action movie cliches begin to pile up like the bodies of evil henchmen: Spartan the loose cannon who doesn’t play by the rules, thinking Phoenix is bluffing about having hostages in the building, fights through hordes of expendable bad guys, meets and spars with Phoenix, accidentally starts the building on fire, and runs down a hallway while the whole place explodes around him. Having taken Phoenix into custody, Spartan finds out that the hostages (why had Spartan kidnapped them? What were his demands? What was he trying to accomplish? Such things matter not to director Marco Brambilla.) were in fact in the building and he now responsible for the death of over 30 innocent people.
The only fitting punishment for Phoenix? Freeze him! That way he can be rehabilitated over the next 70 years by machines that say really nice things to frozen dudes for decades on end so they will mellow out and be able to re-enter society free from violent tendencies. Conveniently, this is also the best way to deal with Spartan–the movie’s namesake–because, you know, his totally unorthodox methods of fighting crime get lots of stuff blowed up. But gosh darn it, 30 years into Phoenix’s rehabilitation, something goes wrong and he is accidentally unfrozen! He begins to wreak havock on Future Los Angeles, a place where violence has been virtually eliminated and the police, grown soft after not fighting crime for decades, have no idea how to deal with an Insane Criminal Mastermind. The solution? Thaw out John Spartan, of course!
The ridiculous plot only gets worse from there on out, as the movie wanders from being a paper-thin exploration of how people can become so dependent on technology that we risk losing what makes us human to an all-out ‘splosion fest in various Future Locales. In Future World, physical touch is considered taboo so people experience pleasure by wearing virtual-reality helmets. Cursing is outlawed and individuals are fined “one credit” for each instance (an insufferable joke that overstays its welcome almost immediately). But this James Cameron-esque attempt to add a bit of depth only results in a handful of awkward scenes that do not advance the plot and only serve to create an uneven pacing throughout the film. Even the barest attempt at developing a relationship between Spartan and Lt. Lenina Huxley is forced and entirely unbelievable.
And so what we have left is a film that is one poorly-staged shootout after another between the well-nigh invincible John Spartan and his nemesis Simon Phoenix, the stark-raving-mad evil genius computer hacker (not kidding) with Kung Fu skillz. And even this silly premise might not be such a bad movie were it properly directed, but every fight or shootout is so poorly blocked and mindlessly executed that it looks as though you’re watching a ninth-grade home video project. After a shootout in a museum, Spartan is chasing Phoenix across a clearing when his quarry jumps down an embankment…and Spartan just stops running. It’s as though writer Peter Lenkov didn’t know how to end the scene, so he just, well, ended it. Even worse, the climax has Stallone swaying slowly back and forth on a giant mechanical arm in the freezing chamber while Snipes laughs like an Evil Maniac and unloads clip after clip while hitting everything in the room but Stallone. It’s madness, I tell you. Madness.
In short? You know a movie is terrible when the best thing about it is a Rob Schneider cameo. And Demolition Man is that movie.
Last 5 posts by Simon R.
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