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'Demolition Man'

By Hal Hinson
Washington Post Staff Writer
October 09, 1993


Marco Brambilla
Sylvester Stallone;
Wesley Snipes;
Nigel Hawthorne;
Denis Leary;
Sandra Bullock
Under 17 restricted

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The new Sylvester Stallone movie, "Demolition Man," shows us the future, and it's a PC nightmare. Set in 2032 in the megalopolis of San Angeles, the picture takes place in a culture where there is no death by unnatural causes, no meat, no booze, no smoking, no salt, no bodily contact and no poverty. When the citizens want to have children, they go to a clinic; when they want to eat out, they go to a Taco Bell (the sole survivor of the so-called Franchise Wars). Every individual is encoded and can be tracked down by the government's computer at any time. And if you utter a profanity within earshot of Big Brother (who is everywhere), you are immediately slapped with a fine.

Add to this picture a super-criminal named Simon Phoenix (Wesley Snipes) and the former cop once responsible for his capture, John Spartan (Sylvester Stallone). Both men are dinosaurs from the past and old adversaries. Both were convicted of crimes in 1996 -- Stallone was innocent -- flash-frozen and kept in a high-tech cryo-penitentiary. But because a dissident group of underground rebels is creating havoc, Dr. Cocteau (Nigel Hawthorne), the not-quite-so-benevolent resident Big Brother, has Phoenix thawed out to murder the group's charismatic leader (Denis Leary).

Basically, "Demolition Man" is a futuristic cop picture with slightly more imagination and wit than the typical example of the slash-and-burn genre. Spartan's colleagues in law enforcement aren't really cops as we know them because, well, there isn't any crime. And so when a crook like Phoenix shows up and starts killing people, they can't deal with him, prompting them to look for help from the last man who put this peroxide-blond urban destroyer behind bars.

Spartan is thawed out to face off with his old adversary. Once he arrives in this clean and proper future, the film becomes a series of so-so jokes about his inability to adapt to this strange new world where people have sex by wearing specially designed helmets and cars drive themselves. Some of these wrinkles are sassy and original, like the morality police who keep up a steady stream of fines as the combatants from the primitive 20th century keep filling the air with swear words. Others, like a gag about the "three shells" that citizens of the future use instead of toilet paper, are crude and cheap.

Stallone tosses every line away with an ironic shrug, not taking himself or any of the nonsense seriously. And Snipes wisely follows suit, though at a markedly higher, crazier level of energy. He's like a Bond villain, cackling madly to himself in appreciation of his own delicious badness.

Stallone has a couple of sidekicks, most notably a spunky, restless cop named Huxley (Sandra Bullock), who is an outspoken aficionado of old 20th-century memorabilia and so bored from inactivity that she welcomes the crime wave. And the primitive bruiser Spartan. Directed by Marco Brambilla, this movie actually suggests that we might someday look back on the gun-crazy '90s with nostalgia. Nice try, fellas, but fat chance.

Demolition Man is rated R.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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