Demolition Man (1993), a recap (part 4 of 6)

Previously: Simon Phoenix visited a museum (probably for the first time in his life) to get his hands on a gun, and he and John Spartan squared off there. Phoenix escaped and met Cocteau, who—surprise, surprise—is the true villain, having masterminded Phoenix’s escape for the sole purpose of killing Edgar Friendly. Phoenix slipped free from Spartan once again and Cocteau, maintaining the façade of the selfless patriarch, invited John and Huxley to dinner at… Taco Bell.

While John is still recovering from learning that Schwarzenegger became POTUS, Lenina Huxley pulls the police cruiser up to the front of Taco Bell. It’s nice how she’s able to use publicly owned transportation for personal use. To be fair, they’re using a GM Ultralight concept car and the production staff made 11 more for the film; I’m guessing they didn’t have much money left over to create a private vehicle for Huxley to own. Then again, in this futuristic Solarpunk Utopia, perhaps public servants owning their own vehicles is discouraged? Fun fact: Since Taco Bell wasn’t as famous worldwide as other franchises at the time, in some countries the restaurant’s name was changed to Pizza Hut, with the necessary dubbing and post production alterations.

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Inside the swanky restaurant, we have a pianist playing and singing the Jolly Green Giant theme, hearkening back to the “oldies” station of ad jingles the gang was listening to earlier. Like the profanity ticket dispensers, it’s nice to see the consistent use of a joke. One of Cocteau’s female guests murmurs to Associate Bob that “the Neanderthal” has arrived. Man, what’s she got against Lenina Huxley? Oh, wait, she’s probably talking about John. Cocteau greets the pair and they sit and right away Spartan’s meal is set down in front of him.

I haven’t seen a dish this weird since I watched the opening of American Psycho. Having never eaten in a hoity-toity hundred-dollar-a-plate restaurant, I can only assume this is the director taking dinners to their logical conclusion. I imagine the rich eat that stuff, pretend they’re full, then pig out on Häagen-Dazs when they get home. Wait, is sugar still legal? Chocolate’s not, so I’m assuming neither is sugar. San Angeles truly would be hell on Earth.

Cocteau raises a toast to John, and Associate Bob introduces himself. John asks for the salt and we find out that salt’s illegal too. How can you make one of the four basic food groups illegal? Cocteau asks Spartan what he thinks of San Angeles, and John says he thought the place would have become a “burning cesspool” by this point, but Cocteau explains that things really were going in that direction before he stepped in. The two argue over the cryo-prison system; Coteau points out Spartan would have been dead by now had he been in a normal jail, but John says he had been experiencing horrific nightmares all while he was under, reliving the exploding building, and seeing his wife pounding on his block of ice. John says it would be more humane to have had him staked down for “the fucking crows”. And yes, in the background, very quietly, you hear a profanity ticket dispenser go off.

Huxley is distressed to discover Cocteau’s little utopia has a flaw in it, but the “mayorguv” angrily dismisses her concerns. John spots something suspicious outside; first, the return of Edgar Friendly’s periscope, and then a dude on a motorcycle who looks like he accidentally rolled in from the post-apocalyptic film they’re shooting next door. Spartan knows something bad is about to go down and heads outside, and sure enough bombs go off all along the lawn and a ventilator cover blows open, revealing…

…Edgar Friendly! And, uh, friend. He leads his “scraps” across the street to a truck full of food. John whips off his dinner… jacket… kimono thing and has a length of pipe in his hand, and he wades into Edgar’s Road Warrior-esque crew and kicks butt, finishing most of them off by cutting into the ropes holding up a… tent like thing. Is it a pavilion? My public education has failed me once more.

Friendly and his forces flee, and Spartan’s about ready to punch one goodbye, but the guy begs him not to. And it’s a nice bit because it’s in stark contrast to his Road Warrior getup and would have been more effective if we hadn’t already seen other similarly dressed guys kung fu-ing it with John earlier. I like the idea of the guys dressing tough to discourage conflict with the surface dwellers.

John then realizes the scraps were on hand to steal food, and nothing more. Cocteau explains how the scraps live in the sewers and abandoned tunnels below, and Huxley’s all excited about there being a “new shepherd” in town and watching him live was better than seeing him on laser disk (snort). But John points out this ain’t the wild west, and hurting people’s never a good thing… then amends it by admitting sometimes it is. And thank you, Sly Stallone, for not coming across like a hypocrite.

On the drive home, John apologizes for yelling at Huxley and she’s cool with it. He sadly wonders what life for his daughter must’ve been like growing up here, and is almost afraid to meet her because he’d come across as some “primitive”. Huxley offers to use the onboard computer to look her up, but John demurs. Another fun fact: one of Friendly’s friendlies was supposed to be John’s daughter but those scenes were cut. I’m not sure how I feel about that, because honestly I think it would have made for some nice scenes. But then again, would it have wrecked the film’s pacing? Lenina hands John what looks like a miniature CD at his request and she wonders why he wanted it. He says he’s playing another hunch.

Elsewhere, Cocteau and Bob get home and find a guest waiting for them.

Outfitted in new gear (you can guess what happened to the poor bastard wearing it before), Simon says he and the boss have gotta talk. Phoenix notes how his skull’s full of a ton of handy info and skills and wonders how it got there, but Cocteau keeps to the point: Simon’s got a job to do and that’s killing Edgar. Simon says he’s going to need backup and hands over a list of potential candidates to thaw out. Cocteau is so desperate to have Edgar killed and to forestall what he seems to think is the inevitable revolution (and nothing sparks a revolution faster than starvation) that he agrees, and I have to wonder just what the hell he’s going to do with Simon after he’s done the deed? For a guy allegedly so smart, Cocteau doesn’t seem to be into long-term planning.

Back with John and Lenina, Huxley drives the pair to her apartment complex where she got him a place down the hall from hers. Inside Huxley’s apartment is, well…

…what she thinks the perfect 20th century apartment looks like. It reminds me of the ’80s café from Back to the Future II with all those false preconceptions of people imagining what life thirty years or so prior must have been like. John is politely impressed with Huxley’s pad, and I have to admit that it’s a little too knick-knacky for my tastes but it’s kinda cool. Lenina turns to Spartan and admits watching him beat the crap out of those guys was a huge turn-on for her, and she asks if he wants to have sex. John, because it’s Sandra Bullock we’re talking about here, of course says yes. Lenina leaves for a bit and the room dips to some soft red mood lighting while the theme to The Love Boat starts playing, and whoever came up with the music joke deserves a raise. Lenina returns wearing a long white robe and a box, and she pulls out a weird helmet-like thing and puts it on John’s head, then she dons the other one and sits opposite him.

She says “it” will start in a few seconds, and John asks what “it” is, and she explains she means the sex. She closes her eyes and starts to sigh, then John starts to feel it as he receives intense erotic images of Huxley accompanied by flashing colored lights. Since the movie was rated R, they could have probably gone all out and hired a body double to stand in for Bullock, and yeah, there’s brief flashes where I’m pretty sure we see breasts, but I like how the sex is more implied by Sandra’s fantastic facial features. John looks like he’s into it, but then he freaks out and tears the helmet-thing off his head. Lenina come out of it and looks super distressed, and I’m not going to speculate what she was experiencing on her end.

She tries to get John to put the sex helmet back on, but he wants to do it the old fashioned way. Huxley looks disgusted and whispers, “Fluid transfer?” like he’s implying they eat a baby or something. Lenina explains that after AIDS there was “NRS”, and after NRS there was “UBT”. Speaking as someone who grew up in this time, AIDS really was a prevalent force and being diagnosed with it was as good as getting a death sentence. So yeah, the idea of something just as bad coming along after it, then something at least as bad after that? I could see a serious aversion to “fluid transfer”, with not even “mouth transfers” being condoned. I’m kind of conflicted here. On the one hand, if VR sex were introduced then that would eliminate a lot of problems. But they don’t call it “making love” for nothing. When two people have sex often there’s an emotional component, and a sharing of physical contact and warmth, and perhaps that companionable silence in the aftermath. Would any of that at all be felt through virtual sex? Probably not. It just seems a vital component to a deep personal relationship would be lost.

Spartan asks about how people have kids, and Lenina explains it’s done in a lab. He attempts to break the law by putting a kiss on Lenina, and in turn she demands he leave her “domicile”. Sorry for repeating myself, but I so dig Bullock’s dialogue. I like how she only uses loftier verbiage when she’s calmer, as well as how she botches 20th century slang. All of it could have just made her into a joke of a character, but then when you hear her explain how the VR sex came about and her dialogue is more grounded, she sounds sincere and, well, real. Bullock is a fantastic actor and I honestly don’t know if Lori Petty could have pulled it off. Then again, when I think Petty all I can think about is this:

And yes, before you tell me in the comments, I know Tank Girl came out two years after this.

Disheartened, Spartan leaves Huxley’s domicile. He finds his own apartment and the movie descends into physical comedy as John forgets that everything is voice-coded, so in the dark he misses that first step. After calling for lights, he checks out his new pad and finds the bathroom.

He settles down in front of what looks like the TV and finds a small case, and inside is a ball of red yarn and knitting needles. The TV comes on, and it turns out it’s also a video-phone, and a sexy nude blonde starts talking. Sadly, it’s a wrong number. Though “wrong” is really a matter of perspective. John plays the miniature CD that Lenina gave him, and as he watches he begins wrapping some of the yarn around his forearm. The disk is a copy of security camera footage from outside the museum, which shows the meeting between Cocteau and Phoenix where Simon couldn’t kill the man, and the mayorguv so arrogantly told our escaped cryo-con he had a job to do.

The next morning, Lenina’s waiting for John outside the apartment complex, and he shows up with a red sweater that he apparently knitted for her as a peace offering for his boorish behavior the night before. And you know, that’s actually pretty adult of him. Lenina is tickled to be receiving a gift and all seems forgiven, and she even lets him drive. On the road, John wonders how the hell he knows how to knit, and Lenina explains that every cryo-con gets an occupation downloaded into their head according to their “genetic disposition”. John wonders how he wound up a seamstress when Simon gets to be a super-soldier computer genius, and he asks Lenina to look up his cryo-educational program. At first her search is denied, but she bypasses it easily. They find out Simon has been taught martial arts, torture, demolitions, urban combat, and a host of other things. And who designs the rehab programs? Why, Cocteau Industries, of course.

Next time: Spartan confronts Cocteau! John descends into the underworld! And Denis Leary does what he does best.

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

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  • Michael Weyer

    It’s made clear by his ultimate fate that Cocteau is so obsessed with getting rid of Friendly and his “perfect” society that he forgot a few key details. Really, he probably thought he’d have no trouble handling Simon, ignoring the major problem of letting a known sociopath be your agent.

    It’s funny how a few months before this, Last Action Hero had a bit where in the world of Arnie’s movie hero Jack Slater, Stallone was The Terminator. The duo liked to take some shots at each other in their films before finally meeting in The Expendables.

  • Martin Pollard

    Enjoying these write-ups quite a bit, as DM is one of my guilty pleasures. One nit: I don’t know if this is intentional on your part, but the city’s name is San Angeles, not San Angelo.

  • oohhboy

    I never considered Demolition Man “Guilty Pleasure”. It’s not a Robocop or Die Hard (Stupid high bar) for me its a near flawless classic. There are so many things both tiny and large that elevate it beyond mindless action. It’s certainly better than Last Action Hero which didn’t live up to it’s potential. Hell, I rank it over True Lies. Demolition Man left me hungry for more, True Lies doesn’t.

    The running swear gag breaks all sorts of rules like stopping at 3. It is played so consistently and straight it’s lore. It never fails to get a laugh out of me. The entire script is really consistent with everything. It isn’t a flash in a pan incoherent mess, you can tell they had fun and cared. It engages with the premise whole heartedly and does alot of world building. Most movies today don’t do that especially the licensed stuff lazily rip from the source and don’t add to it, if anything it destroys it. Looking at you Terminators, Ghostbusters, SW and ST.

    Bullock’s casting is perfect. She is so innocent yet there is this longing for a rougher time full of naivety. The old stories are real yet treated like fables. While she sees a living legend she treats him like a person right from the start. She is so edger to him him adjust while awkwardly meeting him sort of halfway.

    Stallone is firing on all cylinders. He understands the script, he isn’t playing dumb muscle. He isn’t just Demolition Man, he is a guy out of time who is hurt when he hears about his daughter. Violence is his one of his tool but he is in control, he is smart, does detective work, cares about lives, is compassionate. He lets the raiders go, stuns Huxley to keep her out of danger, he doesn’t go for the ridiculous plan of waiting for someone to get murdered. He is a far better cop than real cops especially now. He knows he has crossed lines and makes amends the best he can.