Demolition Man (1993), a recap (part 3 of 6)

Previously: Simon Phoenix was let loose on an unsuspecting 21st century, killing 11 people (I figured out later the 11th would have been the poor bastard he got his overalls from). The police, unequipped to deal with violence, have awakened John Spartan, the man who brought Phoenix down before.

Before we begin, last week Sylvester Stallone announced that Demolition Man 2 is happening. I start recapping this movie and then Sly announces a sequel to it. Coincidence? You be the judge.


Huxley strolls through the police station and asks if there’s any news on Simon Phoenix. Officer James McMillian (known as the “tough cop” in the credits, God knows why) sadly tells her there’s nothing. He asks where “her John Spartan” is, like she just adopted a puppy, and Alfredo Garcia says he guesses the man finally “thawed out” because he headed to the bathroom. They still call it “the bathroom” in the future? With everyone being so grammatically accurate, you’d think Garcia would’ve called it the toilet.

We see John arrive in his new uniform and McMillian heads over to formally “convey his presence”. He holds up his hand and John gives him a bro shake, which freaks out McMillian. Huxley quietly explains that’s a big no-no here, and it’s great because you hear James in the background murmur anxiously, “Germs!” Stallone whispers to Huxley that they’re out of toilet paper, and this starts a round of amused comments on how John Spartan doesn’t know how to use “the three seashells”. Ah, the three seashells; truly a riddle for the ages. What are they? How are they used? Over the years, many have expressed their opinions as to the nature of the shells, and both Sandra Bullock and Sly Stallone have provided speculations of their own. What is known is screenwriter Daniel Waters had a friend who he asked for inspiration, and his friend noted that he had a bag of seashells in his bathroom and so Waters rolled with that. So, mystery solved. Sort of. Back to the movie.

Spartan takes the ribbing in stride, then Zachary Lamb calls out to Spartan, who stares in both pleasure and disbelief. It turns out Zachary is the Chinook pilot from the start of the film. John asks what happened, and Zach explains he got old and was grounded. John says, “Shit, you were a damn good flier,” and the wall-mounted profanity ticket dispenser ejects two fines. As he walks over, Garcia wonders why John Spartan would use profanity when he and Zachary seem to be such good friends. Huxley explains that in the 20th century, “This is how insecure heterosexual males used to bond.” That… might be a bit on the nose, actually. But this does give John an idea: He goes to the machine and delivers a string of profanity that ranks above father-who-steps-on-LEGOs but just short of fishwife-on-market-day. Armed with a handful of tickets, he retires to yon privy.

Later, Huxley explains that since Phoenix doesn’t have a chip implant, he’ll be hard to find. Garcia wonders how police did their job before the chips, and John Spartan explains they “worked for a living”. Ouch, harsh. He further says this “fascist crap” makes him sick, and yeah, the idea of me getting a chip implanted against my will so Big Brother can track me does sound pretty creepy. But hey, guess who had one implanted in his hand the second he was thawed? That’s right: John! He and Earle seem ready to come to blows, and Huxley tells them to “dump some hormones” because they need a plan. But Earle already has one.

The computer spits out that Simon is going to set up a drug lab and start up a crime syndicate, but John figures Simon needs something more basic: he’s going for a gun. Earle snorts with derision at this and says the only place Simon could even see a gun would be at a museum. Then the derisive smile fades as the implication sets in. Cut to a museum…

…and Simon Phoenix has decided to get a little culture-fied. He finds a directory that ultimately leads him to the “Hall of Violence”. Honestly, if I was going to a museum and they had a “Hall of Violence”, that would be the first place I’d check out.

Back at police HQ, Huxley and Garcia head out with John to a police cruiser, and while the two are skeptical about John’s hunch, they go along with it. John insists on driving and discovers cars in the future are a teeny bit more complex. Frankly, I’m surprised they didn’t go the Back to the Future II route and like video games, you drove with your mind rather than your hands. John opts to let Lenina drive rather than make an ass of himself wrapping the car around a telephone pole… or whatever’s the 2032 equivalent. John seems sad, so Lenina decides to play him some music and tunes in to the “oldies station”. But it turns out the “oldies” are old commercials and soon Huxley and Garcia are singing the Armour Hot Dogs jingle, and to this day this still makes me laugh. Okay, so they didn’t predict the invention of the iPod, but did predict pop music getting worse. Hey, it’s true; I have scientific proof!

Back at the “Hall of Violence”—and I can’t help hearing that in Ted Knight’s voice. You know, the narrator from Super Friends? Oh sure, you might like Bill Woodson better, but I prefer the original—Phoenix reaches the firearms department and casually smacks a bystander’s head into a glass wall just because he can. The other patrons light out of there like they all have a highly attuned “bully sense” or something. Phoenix hops up and down with glee at the sight of all the guns, because he knows what he likes and sees a lot of it. He punches the glass and almost breaks his hand, and I love how every time he spouts a profanity that machine inevitably fines him. People might find it annoying, but I appreciate how it’s an integral part of this world.

Phoenix is approached by a custodian who asks him what his “boggle” is, and other than when people were talking about this…

…this movie was the first time I ever heard the word used in a sentence. Phoenix is annoyed at the incessant politeness, then something occurs to him as he asks the man how much he weighs. But before the man can helpfully provide Phoenix with his weight (and it sounded like he was going to use the metric system. Of course), Phoenix throws him through the glass.

An announcer politely requests that all patrons leave the museum, while Phoenix arms up and suddenly realizes that hey, it’s the future: where are all the “phaser guns”? Phoenix finds a display, and lacking a helpful attendant, he instead uses his newly acquired shotgun to destroy the glass to get his hands on a “magnetic accelerator gun”. Phoenix casually kills two attendants while the computer helpfully explains the gun needs a couple of minutes to charge up.

Outside, the cops arrive and John spots a periscope pop out of the ground, but it disappears before the others see it. Dismissing it as just another bit of insanity, he focuses on the issue at hand, and asks what sort of weapons they have. And all they’ve got is a “glow rod”. John wonders if it works…

…and apparently it does. He tells the others to wait outside and give him ten minutes. Inside, Simon loads up a duffel bag he borrows from a mannequin that he calls “Rambo”, and then decides it’s time to leave. The problem is, the exits are sealed by blast doors. But Simon has a solution. Outside, John prepares to open the door when it explodes outwards. Simon has used one of the display cannons to blow up the door. Okay, I get the idea of them having bullets on display, and alright, the “magnetic accelerator gun” might still be functional, but why would there still be a live shell in the cannon?

Simon says he’s a “blast from the past” and John quietly pulls back so he can ambush Phoenix with his stun stick. Well, no, that would have been the smart thing to do. Instead, he delivers a quip and Phoenix responds with machine gun fire. John snags a sawed-off shotgun and pistol and the two exchange gunfire, and Phoenix tries to ambush John by hiding behind the museum directory. But the directory is right next to a glass floor overlooking a preserved section of old Los Angeles. John shoots a heavy lamp and it falls from the ceiling through the glass floor. Phoenix falls through, but he shoots the glass out from under Spartan and he falls, too.

The magnetic accelerator gun is fully charged and Phoenix almost kills John with it, blowing open a fire hydrant and causing water to go gushing everywhere. Phoenix is momentarily overwhelmed by how utterly awesome his new toy is, allowing John to get in close. The two tussle but rather than this being the one-sided fight from the film’s first act, Simon Phoenix is an utter badass now. John’s on the ropes until he gets his hands on an old TV set and swings it around by its power cord like a makeshift flail, then he uses the glow stick in a manner that the manufacturer surely didn’t intend, electrifying the pool of water Phoenix is standing in. Phoenix is knocked back to where his favorite gun is and almost blows John up…

…but he takes refuge in a storefront. Then Simon shoots the stor front and kills John. Well, no, that’s not what happens. Instead, Phoenix retreats. Up on the surface, Cocteau and Bob arrive, and the former is all in a lather about how the museum’s been “desecrated” and how somebody’s gonna pay. Just then, Phoenix pops up through a skylight with his duffel bag full of swag. As Bob explains to his boss how everything’s under control, the pair are shocked by the sound of gunfire. It turns out Phoenix took a shot at Cocteau and missed. Simon dismisses this as the sun getting in his eyes or something and approaches to fire point blank… only, he can’t pull the trigger. A smug Cocteau circles around Simon, utterly confident that the criminal poses no threat.

Cocteau asks Phoenix about whether or not he remembers that he has a job to do: kill Edgar Friendly. Simon tries one last time to kill Cocteau but it’s no use. So out of frustration, he shoots Bob instead. Well, no, that’s not what happens. Instead, Spartan screams out Phoenix’s name and Simon decides it’s time to take a powder. Cocteau plays the grateful politician and thanks Spartan for saving his life. Huxley says this wasn’t bad for a 70 year old, and that Simon Phoenix has “finally matched his meat” and John really “licked his ass”. I read that Lori Petty was originally cast as Lenina Huxley, and I guess I can see her in the role, but like Eric Stoltz in Back to the Future, it just seems like an ill fit. Petty seems too much of a smart ass, and I couldn’t see her delivering this line with the same mixture of self-satisfaction and naiveté.

Spartan gently corrects her while Cocteau asks the newly arrived Captain Earle who John is. Earle explains and Cocteau now recalls the exploits of “The Demoliton Man”, and normally I’d call BS that a real life police officer would have a rockstar reputation like this, but if Cocteau apparently planned to set a serial killer loose with what appears to be a head full of post hypnotic suggestions, I’m guessing he also came across the file explaining how he got frozen in the first place. Cocteau says Earle’s actions are okay with him, despite them being “unexpected” and “creative”, and this hearkens back to earlier in the film when Warden Smithers said to Huxley that he tended not to think, because thinking’s discouraged in the future. Cocteau, grateful to John for “rescuing” him, says he’d like to invite Spartan and Huxley to dinner. He’ll treat them to… Taco Bell?

Back at the police station, Spartan refers to Cocteau as “Spacely Sprockets” and the “Mayorgov”, which makes me wonder just what exactly is the man’s position? Is he mayor of San Angeles? Governor of California? President of PanAm? They never explain, and let’s be fair, trying to explain what happened to the rest of the USA would have been needless exposition that would have slowed the film down. But don’t worry; I’m sure we’ll find out all that in the sequel. Did I mention there’s a sequel coming? And I’m probably responsible for it? Moving on.

Spartan spitballs some ideas of what Phoenix might do next. Without the chip in his hand his options are limited; there’s no physical currency because all transactions are “coded”, so mugging somebody for money to get food and a place to stay is out… unless he rips off some dude’s hand. But hey, Earle has a plan; they’ll just wait until Phoenix kills somebody. Once he does that, they’ll know where he is. Spartan sarcastically says it’s a great plan and Rob Schneider excitedly says in the background, “He likes your plan, chief!” Schneider is so perfectly employed in this film.

That night, Lenina, all dolled up, drives herself and John to Taco Bell. She says she checked out some of John’s video footage from the “Schwarzenegger Library”. John’s shocked to discover Arnold got himself elected president, which became legal after the passing of the 61st amendment. 61st amendment? Between Lenina Huxley’s name being an apparent reference to Aldous Huxley, author of the dystopian novel Brave New World, and the ridiculous amounts of constitutional amendments being reminiscent of Kurt Vonnegut’s short story Harrison Bergeron, another grim dystopic tale, I can’t help but think that maybe among screenwriters Daniel Waters, Robert Reneau, and Peter M. Lenkov at least one of them is pretty damn literate. I wonder if any of them are fans of Hungarian writer István Nemere, who wrote the novel Holtak harca (Fight of the Dead). According to him, the film ripped off three-fourths of his book. Back then, I would have been skeptical, but after I found out how much 2005’s The Island was “inspired by” 1979’s The Clonus Horror, I began to realize just how unethical and cutthroat Hollywood truly is. But I (once more) digress.

Elsewhere, Simon Phoenix finds what appears to be a 21st century maintenance hatch. He pops it open and descends into San Angeles’s underworld.

Back with John and Lenina, Spartan wonders about Cocteau inviting him to dine at Taco Bell, and Leona notes our hero’s “facetious” tone. The only other person I’ve ever heard use that word in a sentence was my dad; he liked to sometimes toss out words like that and “banal” to encourage me to actually crack open a dictionary. Huxley explains Taco Bell was the only survivor of the “franchise wars”, and now all restaurants are Taco Bell. I’m trying to imagine how much money the Bell shelled out for this massive product placement. Lenina parks her car outside the restaurant, and except for the glowing billboard, it looks pretty upscale.

Considering how Taco Bell looked in the ’90s…

…and how they’re starting to look today…

…I’m thinking this movie might’ve made another spot on prediction. But that’s just the outside; what awaits John and Lenina within? Come back next week to find out.

Multi-Part Article: Demolition Man (1993), a recap

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