This 1993 Sylvester Stallone vehicle is quite an odd prospect, and it’s nice to see it getting an airing on Netflix ; the stressful nature of the on-going crisis makes such escapism feel like a public service as America plunges into confusion and darkness circa June 2020. Demolition Man looks like an action film, and certainly has lots of Wesley Snipes running around scaffolding and smoke in dungarees plus a bright orange T shirt. That’s not necessarily a plus, but Snipes does have a certain poise and works well as Simon Phoenix, a super-villain who gets cryogenically frozen after LA riots in 1996 and awakens in 2032 to continue his murderous rampage. On his tail is super-cop John Spartan (Stallone) who finds that his old-school politic brutality is at odds with the policies of the San Andreas police department. Spartan teams up with retro-culture cop Huxley (Sandra Bullock) to use her future technologies and his old-school toughness to track Simon down.
Producer Joel Silver did a great job assembling this cast; Stallone seems to gravitate towards this kind of sci-fi nonsense, but Snipes is a strong baddy, and catching Bullock before she became a megastar helps dispel the macho-nonsense cloud that so often envelops this kind of protect. The fights and future-car chases are decent enough, but there’s also a smattering of wit; the gags about how the 21st century issues on the spot fines for swearing runs consistently through the film, peaking when Spartan launches a foul-mouthed tirade to provide him with much needed toilet paper.
Side-bonuses? Even Rob Schneider manages a funny cameo here, and there’s early Jack Black and a very 90’s Dennis Leary rant. There’s also a funny chat about the Presidency of Arnold Schwarzenegger, cameos for Jesse Ventura and the voice of Adrienne Barbeau, and plenty of great second-guessing of the future; Yes Minister star Nigel Hawthorne has a very 2020 video-conferencing set-up, while driverless cars, voice-activated homes and other accoutrements are all well imagined., as are the product placements for Taco Bell, restored to the UK cut.
Huxley’s large poster for Lethal Weapon 3 suggests that Silver was happy to pay tribute to his own robust film-making style here, specifically via Huxley’s obsession with pop culture from the past. This allows her to give a running commentary on Spartan as a man out of his own time, and there’s real wit about some of the dialogue. Maybe Demolition Man doesn’t offer the pure action hit of The Terminator, but it’s one of the few big-budget, numbskull action-flicks that actually offer some kind of wry, intelligent critique of societal change. Marco Brambilla directs.