One-Shot Wonder

The L.A. parodies in the movie are embarrassingly flat -- a Disneyland takeoff called "The Happy Kingdom by the Sea" is no more than a sarcastic backdrop, and a fleeting reference to the Jaws ride on the Universal Studios tour amounts to a jolly little plug. Escape From L.A. wants to be a rampage of political incorrectness, but it's so locked into its own tiny movie world that it resonates only with true believers in violent kitsch, who chortle at the first appearance of Campbell or Grier. If it isn't weighed down with the in-jokiness of the first film (which included characters named for directors Cronenberg and Romero), Escape From L.A. is just as much a product of pseudo-hipness. It brings back the atmosphere of debauched cultiness that began to plague American moviedom when the air went out of the renaissance that Coppola spearheaded with his Godfather films. Because American genre movies meant as much to directors like Coppola and Scorsese as European art movies, and because they and other major talents (like Richard Rush and Robert Towne) had emerged from exploitation mills, serious critics and fans often became connoisseurs du schlock, trying to read the future of the movies between the sprockets of the most degraded trash. Limited directors like Carpenter, Romero, Wes Craven, and (remember?) Tobe Hooper received outlandish respect (while outsize talents like Brian De Palma were often reviled for their ambition). At the end of Escape From L.A. Snake Plissken lights a match during a universal blackout. For a long time, Carpenter has been in the same position as his anti-hero: Only in the land of the blind is the one-eyed man, or one-shot director, king.

Escape From L.A. opens Friday, Aug. 9, at area theaters.

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