Monday, December 15, 2014

Demolition Man Weekend

aka Demolition Man-ia!  No?  Ok...I've always loved Demolition Man, I saw it on video at some point, had the VHS, a tee shirt but randomly none of the toys.  It's just a slick, funny and well produced flick with great performances from star Sylvester Stallone, Wesley Snipes as the villain and Sandra Bullock as the sweet and sassy sidekick.  The flick opens in a destroyed and on fire Los Angeles where Detective John "The Demolition Man" Spartan (Stallone) assaults the inner city compound of drug dealing maniac Simon Phoenix (Snipes) to find some kidnapped hostages.  Things go wrong, Phoenix frames Spartan for the death of the hostages and in this version of 1996, prisoners are cryogenically frozen and rehabilitated.  Cut to 40 years later where Los Angeles and San Diego have merged into a crime free utopia dubbed San Angeles run by the benevolent Dr. Cocteau (Nigel Hawthorne) after a massive earthquake gives society a fresh start.  But there's a pesky, underground movement headed by Edgar Friendly (Dennis Leary) stirring up trouble so Cocteau thaws out Simon Phoenix to get rid of the activist.  There hasn't been an unsanctioned death in 20 years and the wussy cops don't know how to handle 90's violence.  How do you catch a maniac?  You send a maniac!  Spartan is thawed out, reinstated and teamed up with Officer Lenina Huxley (Bullock) to help find Phoenix and the two reignite their epic battle to kill each other.

The world of Demolition Man's future is fully realized with technology, self-driving cars, laser disks, virtual sex, molecular future guns, rat burgers and high end Taco Bell.  Anything not good for you is illegal so no red meat, salt, sex, guns, cursing, etc.  You even get fined a credit for violation of the verbal morality code when you curse in public.  Instead of toilet paper, there's a little shelf with three seashells on it.  Stallone is hilarious here as the hardass cop/fish out of water, Snipes is also hysterical as the menacing and dangerous villain and Bullock is perfect as the naive 20th century loving action junkie.  A terrific supporting cast includes Lethal Weapon Captain and Richard Donner's cousin Steve Kahan, Rob Schneider, Benjamin Bratt, then comedian Leary, The Shawshank Redemption's Bob Gunton and Beetlejuice's Glenn Shadix.  Random cameos include Predator's Jesse Ventura, bodybuilding trainer Charles Glass and bit parts from an unknown Jack Black, MTV host Dan Cortese as well as Tatsu from Ninja Turtles himself, Toshishiro Obata. Of course it's an action movie so you get lots of shootouts (the two have the worst aim in the world), jumping from helicopters, cars and buildings exploding, hand to hand combat, car chases and the like. 

Directed by first timer Marco Brambilla from a script by Daniel Waters, Robert Reneau and Peter M. Lenkov, Demolition Man is extremely underrated as it's very clever, has some great quotable dialog (Schwarzenegger was President!) and of course, pulse pounding action.  I do recall the marketing being everywhere on MTV with Stallone, Snipes and Bullock on hand to demolish a Las Vegas casino and being handed Louisville Slugger baseball bats. Elaborate media promo packages were said to have contained bomber jackets, CD's with Sting's oddly chosen title track and a hard hat.  Taco Bell offered the Demo Deal. Reviews weren't kind for the Joel Silver produced spectacle but DM would gross a then record breaking $14.2 million in it's first weekend on it's way to a $58 million total and another $100 million worldwide.  That would be good enough for #18 on highest grossers for year behind Stallone's own Cliffhanger at #10.  His next film, the bomb expert, Miami set The Specialist would open in the same October weekend in 1994 and do near identical business.  A talented commercial director who landed the gig after impressive spots for Nike and Pepsi caught Silver's eye, Brambilla would only go on to direct the Benecio Del Toro/Alicia Silverstone kidnapping flick Excess Baggage in 1997 and episodes of 2002's Dinotopia.  Silver would hit and miss with horror titles and action flicks like Demon Knight and Executive Decision before the one-two success of Lethal Weapon 4 and The Matrix in the later 90's.  Snipes was riding a wave of action, drama and comedy in hits like New Jack City, White Men Can't Jump and Rising SunDemolition Man put him into action mode where he had a huge hit as vampire slayer Blade and of course, reunited with Stallone for 2014's The Expendables III.  Bullock starred in Speed the next summer and has since become one of Hollywood's most bankable actors.

Over the years, Demolition Man has grown into a cult film with it's unique vision of the future and quirky sense of humor.  The three seashells seems to be the one of the most remembered aspects as it's never actually explained.  Years later Stallone said it was told to him that you were supposed to use two shells to wipe away and one to clean up while writer Waters only recently said the idea came to him from a friend who was going to the bathroom and had a jar of seashells on the counter.  Bullock has also humorously evaded the question and just shows you that some things are better left unexplained.  A commentary from Brambilla and Silver sticks mostly to technical issues while referring to the scope and tight schedule but Brambilla comments the film was well received and made money.  Behind the scenes stories ran rampant around Hollywood, though.  Before shooting began, several writers fought for credit and Monster Squad helmer Fred Dekker contributed a draft as well. Originally designed as a starring vehicle for Steven Seagal and Jean-Claude Van Damme but the Belgian butt kicker objected to playing the villain.  While that would have been a great pairing, Stallone and Snipes are just too good in the film to imagine anybody else in the roles.  Stallone had flopped twice in comedies so a return to action but with humor was just what the doctor ordered.  Snipes turned down the film but producer Silver visited him on the set of Rising Sun and convinced the actor to join.

Originally set to be a 72 day shoot with a $45 million dollar budget, the production was quickly bogged down by Brambilla's feature film inexperience and the nature of a big budget action film containing concept cars, giant sets and huge action pieces.  Five Assistant Directors were hired and fired, Stallone missed nine days of shooting from a pinched nerve, original Lenina Huxley actress Lori Petty filmed one scene and was replaced, etc.  The shoot began in February then stretched into August as 72 days become 110 and the budget reportedly ended up in the near $60 million range.  Famed editor and clean up guy Stuart Baird cut the film through production to make it's 10.8.93 release.  Former military demolitions expert turned professional wrestler and actor Jesse Ventura was supposed to have a huge fight scene with Stallone but footage has never been released.

Watching it as a drinking game this weekend where the rules are simple, drink anytime you hear "John Spartan", "Simon Phoenix" or see/hear the Verbal Morality Violations and three seashells.  An hour in, you want to stop drinking because it's nearly nonstop. It's also fun to spot the locations around Los Angeles like the Design Center on Melrose, interior of the Los Angeles convention center downtown (which hadn't opened yet), the convention center in San Diego and what I thought was the Variety plaza by the Tar Pits on La Brea but is actually located in Irvine.  Must be the same architect.  Until next time, be well!

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