ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK -- At 20 area theaters.

By 1997, the whole of Manhattan Island will have become a maximum-security prison, the East and Hudson rivers will brim with mines, and the view from Jersey will be marred by a 50-foot retaining wall.

Ed Koch wouldn't much like the idea, but it's the premise anyhow of "Escape for New York," a movie that manages, agaist all odds, to be likable and even fun -- if you can stand a little violence.

Director John Carpenter and producer Debra Hill, the team responsible for "Halloween" and "The Fog," have come up with another B-movie thriller whose ambitions get exceeded by respectable results. What you're left to wonder -- what with the film's byzantine plot and wildly stupid thesis (Air Force One crash-lands in a penal colony; the Feds choose a felon to get the president out) -- is how they were able to bring it off.

Kurt Russell plays the felon, "Snake" Plissken, a strong, silent type in the tradition of Clint Eastwood. Except that "Snake," an ex-Special Forces man with a weakness for robbery, is better and braver than Clint because he wears an eye-patch, which miraculously hasn't the slightest effect on his peripheral vision.He's helped by the sultry Adrienne Barbeau and the good-hearted Ernest Borgnine, who's been playing the simpleton in movies so long that he hardly needs to act it.

Donald Pleasence as the president, by comparison, comes off as a selfish old fool, who more than deserved the treatment he gets from Isaac Hayes -- who's added a twitching eye to his normal "bad" act -- plus assorted other wrongdoers.

Tight editing for the sake of suspense, and whatever amusement you might get from seeing the World Trade Center as a vacant shell, work to make this movie a pleasure to watch.

By the way, this business of abusing the president, as in "Superman II," appears to be gaining cachet in Hollywood, which once showed the chief executive the greatest of deference. Are things so bad that there's some national cartharsis in having the poor fellow smacked around?