Apr 27, 2020
Demolition Man (1993), a recap (part 5 of 6)
Last time on Demolition Man: After having dinner at Taco Bell and thwarting Edgar Friendly’s attempt to steal food for his people, Spartan botched a virtual sex encounter with Lenina. But after playing a hunch, Spartan discovered Cocteau might be behind Phoenix’s release, and after checking Simon’s subliminal rehabilitation program which gave the psycho a host of murderous skills, it seems the mayorguv is up his robed elbows in skullduggery.
The article continues after these advertisements...
Spartan and Huxley head over to Cocteau Industries to have a chat with society’s savior. Huxley tells John to “enhance his calm”, and that line reminds me of Jayne from the movie Serenity when he says of River Tam’s freaking out, “She’s disturbing my calm.” Checking IMDb and… nope. Joss Whedon had nothing to do with Demolition Man; they’re just two similar lines. Huh, I had no idea he was one of the four screenwriters who worked on Toy Story.
The pair burst into Cocteau’s conference room and are confronted by the robotic video-conferencing screens, each one sporting the mayorguv’s face. Cocteau apologies for not being present, but he’s got a “citygov” to run. John comes right out and tells Cocteau he saw the security footage at the museum and Phoenix had ten full seconds to put a bullet in Cocteau’s head, and he wants to know what was said. Cocteau—not a man used to having to enhance his own calm—loses it and says Spartan’s behavior was out of control even for his time. John just goes and proves him right by shooting half the screens. Cocteau then starts the spin that hey, maybe John’s the real menace here. Unfortunately for him, Cocteau’s assistant Bob has these really bad poker tells and pretty much telegraphs that Cocteau is hiding behind the metaphorical curtain, like the Wizard of PC Oz .
Cocteau calls John’s bluff, knowing that for all his ape man primitive behavior, he’s not a psycho; he’s already had enough interaction with one of those to tell the difference. Huxley’s here, so Cocteau plays up being the savior of civilization and tells Spartan he’s going to put him back in cryo-sleep. He orders Lenina to drive John back there right now, and tells John ironically to “be well”. John replies, “Be fucked,” and gets the inevitable curse word ticket. John shoots the ticket dispenser, which caused Assistant Bob to pass out.
In the next scene, we see John joined by Zachary Lamb, Diego Garcia, and Lenina Huxley as they all get out of a police car. Lenina is upset because she’s disobeying a direct order from her living god to return John back to the cryo-prison, but John, sporting an industrial strength flashlight, has an idea where he can find Phoenix in the one place they a) can’t monitor, b) are afraid to go, and c) don’t give a shit about. John asks the pair (because Lamb has mysteriously disappeared. I’m not kidding; he got out of the car and boom, he’s gone! Maybe he went to go look for a toilet? I can relate; I know whenever I’m planning a trip, the first thing that comes to mind it taking a leak. Yeah, you go laugh. Just wait ‘til you hit fifty) if they want to arrest him or go with him down into the “wasteland”. Lenina’s convinced and says they need to go find Phoenix and “blow this guy”, and John corrects her that it’s “blow this guy away”. Y’know, this joke would get so annoying if rather than it being in a two hour movie it became the signature character trait of someone on a TV show.
Down in the “wasteland”, Lenina discovers everything’s dirty. John’s been to downtown LA so he’s seen worse, and he has Diego use his fancy handheld know-it-all device to tell them where to go next. Diego nervously starts to sing the Ken-L Ration dog food jingle. The trio reach a subterranean community that views them with fear and suspicion, and they catch a whiff of something the young pair think is vile. But John visibly lights up and follows his nose to a woman grilling burgers. John asks her for a burger and beer if she’s got it, and then pays with Huxley’s watch. John gets served and is in heaven sipping on his cerveza and chewing on his burger. Then Huxley points out there are no cows down here.
The griller admits he’s eating a rat burger, and John mans up and wolfs it down. The trio head off through the underworld, which seems to consist mostly of giant steam pipes. People stare in terror and make way for the three, and Lenina slowly realizes they’re not hostile at all. The trio come across a truly sweet ride, a 1970 Oldsmobile 442, complete with all the trimmings, and Huxley practically drools as she stares at what is arguably the pinnacle of American muscle cars. But this allows someone to get the drop on them.
It’s Edgar and his crew, who now mysteriously have guns. Why didn’t they have guns the night before? You’d think they’d have one or two on hand to intimidate any glow stick wielding cops that might have interfered. And apparently at least one works, because Edgar unloads one of the barrels of his Road Warrior-style shotgun pistol at the ceiling to show he’s serious. Huxley informs him they’re looking for a killer, and Edgar immediately assumes they mean him. Friendly tells them to go to hell and get out of town, but instead of politely telling them to “be well”, John goes all Alpha male on him. John suddenly realizes Edgar is the guy from outside of Taco Bell, and Edgar finally begins to realize this bunch isn’t here for him. John assumes Edgar isn’t part of the “Cocteau plan”, and this sparks a classic Dennis Leary rant.
It’s pretty toned down from Leary’s stand-up act of the time, but damn if I don’t love it. Friendly says he’s no leader, and he just does what he’s gotta do and sometimes people follow him. Then John lays down a very unpleasant fact as the final pieces click into place: Cocteau wants Friendly dead, and John now knows why Phoenix got woken up. As an aside, I actually like how Spartan is written here. He has hunches and plays them; he follows evidence where it leads and draws logical conclusions based on facts. He’s not the world’s greatest detective, but he’s competent. True, from the start he takes a dislike to Cocteau because the guy has socially engineered hell on Earth, but in this case, facts jibe with his gut feelings. Friendly is brought up short, shocked at the very thought that the guy who invented “be well” would actually want anyone whacked.
Elsewhere, Phoenix is addressing his thawed out troops…
…who have found gear and fly honeys. Good to see they have their priorities straight. Phoenix explains how the world has turned into a “pussy-whipped Brady Bunch” version of itself… and damn, that’s a pretty spot-on description of Cocteau’s San Angeles. Phoenix gives an inspirational speech, telling them that all they have to do is kill Raymond, the guy who put it all together. “Raymond”, as in… Raymond Cocteau? I get the feeling Mister Be Well is going to regret giving Simon carte blanche. As an added bonus, the gang gets to kill the man who put most of them in the ice house in the first place: John Spartan.
Meanwhile, Huxley admits that John’s conclusions are all pretty logical, and Phoenix is the ideal man to send into the “savage nether regions” to kill Friendly. She’s taking the fact that her lord and savior is a manipulative sociopath pretty well. Friendly is pretty incredulous, but even he can’t ignore the facts. Phoenix and company spot Friendly and Spartan jawing and take advantage of the situation, and he and his guys open up with all the firearms Simon stole from the museum… and they miss. Seriously? You had the drop on Spartan, you open up with a half dozen rifle-type firearms, and you don’t hit anybody? Couldn’t, I dunno, Diego have looked up and warned everyone to take cover or something? Or couldn’t John have taken the stereotypical flesh wound? Hell, even Edgar gets out of it unscathed!
Phoenix opens up with his sci-fi gun and blows the roof down, and he thinks he got John, but then he spots him again. But before he can finish the job, Edgar uses his shotgun pistol thingy and blows away the supports to the catwalk that Simon is standing on, causing him to drop. Diego attempts to… arrest Phoenix? I mean, I guess he’s trying to arrest Simon Phoenix by approaching him with his hand out. Honestly, I’m not sure what Diego’s thought process is at this point. Whatever it is, I’m sure he regrets it, as Simon smacks him around and body slams him through a table. I’d make a Dudley Boys joke at this point, but I think that would’ve been old ten years ago. Without any guns and with his men scattered, Phoenix flees from Spartan. He heads up to the surface while evading John’s gunfire. John notices that he’s gone up an elevator shaft, and soon finds the controls. Whelp, that’s convenient. I’ll bet it even works, too, even though it likely hasn’t been used in thirty years or more.
Phoenix reaches the surface and finds a police car, and from what I understand, in the original cut of the film, Zachary Lamb was supposed to die. I’m guessing maybe this was the scene? Logically, having Lamb stay topside to watch the car would have made sense. But I’m a little conflicted, because having Lamb die would have been a cliché, but on the other hand, having him completely disappear from the rest of the film seems even worse. I get the feeling the film’s editor is more to blame than the director.
Phoenix steals the police car, and oh noes! How is John Spartan ever going to possibly catch Simon without a vehicle?
Ah, popping right up in an Oldsmobile dealership. I was sort of wondering if capitalism even existed in Cocteau’s Utopia. Though, having Oldsmobile in this movie has aged about as well as half of the brands that showed up in Blade Runner.
Huxley’s in the passenger seat and Spartan’s behind the wheel, and Diego… I… guess he’s in the back seat laying down? I hope he is. Otherwise, they left the poor guy in an underworld dystopia a hair’s breadth away from practicing cannibalism. John throws the car into gear and blows through the showroom window. Somehow, John and Lenina know where Simon is, and somehow Lenina recognizes her own police car, and suddenly a movie that was so carefully crafted and made sense feels like a sloppy mess. It’s almost like the director had this well put-together film, and some producer said they had to shave about twenty minutes or so off so they could squeeze in an extra showtime at theaters. And yeah, that’s happened: Stallone’s Cobra got a whole lot of time slashed; all the bad guy’s interesting backstory got left on the cutting room floor just so it could compete with Top Gun.
Anyway, back to the movie, such as it is now. Stallone catches up to Phoenix, who fires through his rear window and takes out a headlight and puts holes through the Oldsmobile’s pristine windshield, and God damn it, this Olds just bothers me. It’s in pristine condition. How do you keep a car like that so cherry in Road Warrior World? Spartan takes out one of Simon’s tires with his pistol, which seems to have an unlimited supply of ammo. Seriously, where is John keeping all these bullets? The “auto-inflate” gets activated on the police car, and though I’d like to say the movie predicted this, apparently Hummers had this feature as early as ’93.
John climbs out onto the hood of the Olds and has Huxley drive, and apparently futuristic cars don’t have foot pedals, because it takes her a bit to work out the accelerator. Damn, I hope she figures out the other pedal is the brake. Spartan jumps onto the top of the police car and Phoenix tries to shoot him off but fails. Phoenix opens the car doors but that only allows John to grab him. Phoenix loses a door, so he puts the car into auto-drive, which allows him to get both hands on John and try to push his head down onto the concrete.
Phoenix takes the time here to admit that all those bus passengers back in 1996 had been dead by the time John had shown up at his hideout. I guess they wanted to throw that in for anyone who still might have thought Stallone was playing a mass murderer? Personally, I think it would have been better had Spartan, in the final scene, been wearing a wire and tricked Phoenix into exonerating him in the final confrontation. Just sayin’. John manages to grab Simon and flip him out of the car, and he then proceeds to bounce along the freeway. John slides in behind the wheel, but the car is malfunctioning and goes wild. He gets it back into self-drive mode again but it’s too late, as he heads right for San Angeles police HQ.
Next up: The final chapter! Does John Spartan die in a spectacular crash? What happened to Diego? Did Lenina learn how to brake? Tune in next time to find out.