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

Last time: Spartan and company (including Zachary Lamb, who appears to possess the mutant power of invisibility, which he uses throughout the rest of the film) went down Below to find Simon Phoenix, only to meet Edgar Friendly. Dots were connected and Cocteau’s true plot was uncovered. Phoenix put in an appearance and Spartan and Huxley gave chase, with Phoenix fleeing and Spartan crashing into the SAPD fountain.

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Huxley drives up in that badass ’70 Olds, with her expression being one of worry as she approaches her police cruiser…which looks like it vomited up a ton of packing foam. She calls for John and he punches his way out.

John stares at the car and wonders why it suddenly turned into “a cannoli”, and Huxley explains it’s “secure foam” and it saved his life. FYI, this might blow your minds, but airbags were invented in ’71, and didn’t become mandatory in automobiles until ’98. Huxley notices John’s torn clothing and says he’s a mess, but John figures he can fix it with a needle and thread, and I remember the audience erupting with laughter at that line. Hopefully because we remember John’s now programmed to be a seamstress, and not that we thought a guy being able to sew was funny.

The Chief shows up and tries to arrest John, but Spartan gives this threat the amount of attention it deserves. Then he spots Friendly and his forces, who have a new member.

Ah, nice to see Diego wasn’t killed and fried up by the rat burger lady. Hey, I didn’t see any graveyards down there; just sayin’. John borrows a couple of guns from Edgar and his friendlies and he and Lenina mount up. The Chief still tries to arrest John, but Huxley tells him to “take his job and shovel it”. John corrects her again, and at this point I think it would have been funnier if he just paused, then smiled and said, “Never mind.” The two go roaring off into the night in the Olds.

Back at Cocteau’s place, he’s at his conference table, grinning like a kid at Christmas as he tells Phoenix that he’s worked out better than expected. Everybody’s terrified, and that’ll give the mayorguv “carte blanche”. So does that include the Scraps living below? Was his plan to terrorize the Scraps into falling in line? Or did he just mean the people above? Because I wasn’t seeing any real dissent from the citizenry. And Friendly’s not dead, is he? Phoenix tries shooting Cocteau again but can’t, and once the man is through explaining his grand plan, Simon realizes his host reminds him of an evil Mister Rogers. That… is a damn good analogy. Phoenix tosses the gun to one of his guys…

…Oh hey, it’s Jesse Ventura, star of such movies as Schwarzenegger’s The Running Man and Predator, and the sort of guy who makes the absolute most of just a few lines! But does this charismatic tough guy get any lines in this movie? Nope! He shoots Cocteau and the guys toss the schmuck on the fire.

Simon turns his attention on Assistant Bob and wonders what he should do with him; judging by the prison sex inferences in the first act, I don’t like Bob’s chances. But instead of freaking out, Bob instead offers his services to the “new administration”. Politicians come and go, but the bureaucracy stays the same. Phoenix seems hip to the idea, but before we can tell if he’s being sincere or setting Bob up for a punchline ending in blood, Bob points out that Spartan has arrived.

Downstairs, John and Lenina make their way through the lobby when they’re jumped by two of Phoenix’s men. John spars with a guy, and it would have been nice if the dude got a name; I mean, John could have stared at the guy and said something like, “Cromwell? Simon thawed you out?” I know John saw Phoenix’s boys earlier, but he could have easily assumed he had suborned some Scraps. John dispatches the guy and Lenina… kicks the crap out of the other one. I’d call bullshit, but she drilled the guy’s nuts twice. Lenina then saves John by shooting his opponent before he puts another hole in John’s shirt. Huxley’s a little stressed that she killed a guy, and John’s all, “It was him or us,” and suddenly she’s cool with it. Okay, I’m calling it; between her fascination with violence and her inability to empathize with a guy she just killed, I’m betting Lenina’s a closet sociopath. John asks where she learned to kick like that, and she explains “Jackie Chan movies”, an inside joke, since Chan was offered the role of the bad guy in Demolition Man before Snipes.

The pair make it to the conference room and find a cooked Cocteau, as well as data scrolling across the various monitors. They learn Phoenix is thawing out 80 psychos like himself, all without rehab, and they’ll all be awake within an hour. Lenina prepares to ride out with John on this long odds mission, but John has other ideas. He takes Lenina’s stun stick…

…and knocks Lenina out, then rushes off.

Back at the cryo-prison, Phoenix is watching the bad guys getting thawed. He takes a look at the list of inmates and comes across Jeffrey Dahmer’s name. Excited, he wants him thawed out in the second wave. Of course, the people behind the movie couldn’t have possibly predicted that Dahmer would be killed in prison in ’94.

Once he’s sure he’s got things well in hand, Phoenix pulls out his AK-47 and guns down the prison staff. Damn, Phoenix holds a grudge. I guess he was really upset that a bunch of guys got to look at his frozen butt for decades. Outside, Spartan dons his signature beret and seems to power up, much like turning his baseball cap backwards in the “classic” Over The Top.

So if any of you thought the name “John Spartan” was silly, remember Sly once played a character called Lincoln Hawk.

Spartan drives the Olds through the front gates, and inside he uses a pass key to get deeper into the facility. The air is full of dry ice to give us that “steam factory” aesthetic from movies like Commando, The One, and that other Stallone classic Cobra. The computer voice helpfully tells us the cons are going to get defrosted in ten minutes, which means Spartan’s got himself a time limit, or else San Angeles gets eighty new citizens. Spartan spots Phoenix and tries to hide, but he hits a console and alerts our golden-haired antagonist. A gunfight ensues where something like thirty bullets are fired and no one gets hit. Not even Bob, and he’s the biggest, brightest target here. Phoenix and Bob flee upstairs, and wow, the big guy is pretty light on his feet. John reloads and prepares to give chase, but Phoenix catches him in his claws of doom!

I bet Simon’s really good at those claw grabber arcade games. Bob decides it’s time to haul ass out of here, but Simon’s too busy with John to give the big guy a parting shot. Phoenix does some target practice on John and misses every time, but one of his bullets hits a line full of liquid nitrogen. John uses it to freeze one of the arms of the claw machine and shatters it, freeing himself. He swings away but Phoenix drops the floor out from under him, so John lands on a frozen convict. Phoenix then grabs this laser beam… thing… and shoots, but it malfunctions. So he smashes off the tip of it and it becomes even more dangerous.

Usually when you break something, it’s supposed to work, you know, less well. The thing finally burns out and Phoenix, pissed off, tosses it away. The two unarmed men now face off against each other. The two bulls lock horns, and while John gets in a few good hits, he’s clearly outmatched by Simon who’s been filled up with a host of combat techniques and is super-strong, kind of like a funky Captain America. The automatic sprinkler system kicks in for… reasons… and Phoenix is about to impale John with a metal spike, saying it’s the best day of his life, and then he sees what’s laying next to John: one of the glow rods from the first act.

John strikes the ground and the glowing ball hits the wet floor, and immediately the freezing effect flows across it and over Phoenix who screams as he becomes frozen. John, having snagged what’s left of the giant grabber, swings around and decides to make sure Simon Phoenix won’t be in Demolition Man II.

The prison proceeds to explode, killing everyone inside. Gosh, I hope there weren’t any employees still alive in there. And I hope there weren’t any criminals like John still frozen in there. You know, people unjustly imprisoned and waiting for the day they could be unfrozen. Ah, screw ‘em; ‘splosions are cool!

Outside, Friendly and his friends show up with Diego, and so does the Chief. The latter is devastated to realize that even though Phoenix is dead, so is Cocteau, and he wonders what’ll happen to all of them. Friendly suggests they get shitfaced and literally paint the town, but John suggests the Chief get a little dirty and Friendly a lot clean, and somewhere in the middle they’ll figure it all out. Bob shows up to offer his services to the new regime, of course, and the movie ends with John Spartan and Lenina Huxley heading off for some serious fluid exchanging. End credits, and cue Sting’s retooling of the Police song “Demolition Man”.

So that was Demolition Man. I hadn’t seen the movie in years, and I’m pleasantly surprised to say it stands up pretty well. In terms of plot, it’s goofy fun that takes a stab at things like political correctness, free speech, and class struggles. The movie isn’t deep by any stretch, but it does make you think. Um, a little.

Did the movie make any bold predictions? Well, for the most part, not really. Self-inflating tires, remote control cars, tablets, video conferencing… all of these existed or were being developed before the movie came out. As for the chips implanted in every citizen living above ground, people have been implanting microchips in pets since 1990. But where the movie really seems to presage the future is in regards to touching and social distancing; the multiple diseases that prompt this new society do feel darkly prescient now.

I did wonder about the rest of the world that San Angeles existed in, but the movie clocks in at a little under two hours and any attempt at further world-building probably would have killed the film’s momentum. I could imagine a modern filmmaker like Christopher Nolan crafting a three-hour magnum opus giving us a rich and complex backstory regarding what the United States looked like after “the” earthquake. Honestly, I think that while I respect directors like Nolan and their attention to detail, sometimes less is more. That being said, I do object to film editors cutting the hell out of movies so they can squeeze another showing in per day. So I guess what I’m saying is, everything in moderation. As to the world as a whole, will Sly’s announced sequel show us a glimpse of it, even if it’s only the United States? To paraphrase Rocky Balboa, Sly’s got me curious.

Stallone is great as John Spartan; he delivers the goods action-wise and he shows his comedic chops here. Sandra Bullock is outstanding as Lenina Huxley, combining a sense of innocence with intelligence. Like I said before, my only issue really was her not being overly traumatized when she discovered her idol released a mass murderer on society. Benjamin Bratt is good for what we saw in the film, although judging by the talent and range we’ve seen him put on display in later films and TV work, it would have been nice to have seen him given more to do here. Wesley Snipes is outstanding as Simon Phoenix, packing a ton of manic energy into his performance as the perfect foil for Stallone’s straight-laced Spartan.

That being said, I do have a couple issues with other cast members. Nigel Hawthorne is a tremendous actor, and he does a credible job with what he was given. But his Dr. Raymond Cocteau comes across as a complete idiot. I realize he saved San Angeles and he’s the head of what appears to be a powerful corporation, so that shows he’s pretty intelligent. But to then thaw out Simon Phoenix to assassinate Edgar Friendly? What was he going to do with Phoenix after he did the deed? They never say. It seems obvious he’s just replacing one Edgar Friendly with another, only one a thousand times worse. If I had written the movie, I would have had Hawthorne portray Cocteau as a flawed genius, and a man who builds what he thinks is the perfect society but turns a deliberate blind eye to the problem under his feet: the Scraps. They’re out of sight, out of mind. He doesn’t realize the dangers the Scraps pose because he chooses not to; it’s like how J. Edgar Hoover ignored the existence of the mob because to do so would be to admit his FBI had failed. So who wakes up Phoenix?

That’s right: Bob. Bob comes up with this bright idea, figuring he can bribe Phoenix to go away after the job is done, not realizing Phoenix doesn’t do what he does for the money but for the thrill of the chaos he creates. Imagine the scene where Phoenix exits the museum and confronts Cocteau and Bob. Instead of seeing it play out the way it did, we just see Phoenix sneaking up on the pair, then we cut away to Spartan and Huxley dashing for the trio without knowing what was said. We then find out later it’s Bob that says to Phoenix, “Doesn’t he have a job to do?” And Cocteau, realizing something is wrong but unsure how to fix it, covers for Bob in front of Spartan. It would have made Bob a much more interesting character at least, and it would have made Cocteau look less like a moron. Glen Shadix was a wonderful actor and a comedic genius, and seeing his role expanded from comic relief assistant to the true instigator of this mess would have been a lot of fun. But that’s just me backseat directing, just like every other nerd online.

I hope you enjoyed this recap, and please join me next time when I hit the long boxes again for more comic book goodness.

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

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  • Michael Weyer

    I think the whole thing was Cocteau so obsessed with his perfection that he just naturally assumes Phoenix (with the control not to kill him) will be either easily dispensed with afterward or even join him. The look on his face when Phoenix tells his buddy to kill him sells how Cocteau is a classic case of “grand vision but no details” guy.

  • GreenLuthor

    I suppose there could have been more to Cocteau’s programming of Phoenix to handle the “after” part, although a guy who would think to put in a “you can’t harm Cocteau” program without a “or let anyone else do so, either” clause maybe wasn’t thinking far enough ahead. (Seriously, bad guys, it’s right there in Asimov’s First Law for a reason!)

  • DamonD

    I like that Bob idea!

    Love this film, though I also haven’t seen it for a few years now. Really hits that sweet spot of over-the-top action, one line zingers, macho bullshit and sly satire, and it’s paced really well.

  • Martin Pollard

    Small correction. When Huxley tells the chief to “take this job and shovel it,” Spartan doesn’t correct her. He repeats the line, she becomes concerned that she messed up another pop culture reference, but smiles when Spartan says, “Close enough.” Pretty similar to what you hoped he’d do.

  • Sticky Steve

    Nice recap