The subtle difference between an obliviously trashy movie and a self-aware trashy movie can be the little thing that makes all the difference. The 1993 Sylvester Stallone sci-fi actioner Demolition Man knows it's trash, and jumps right in for a good old-fashioned wallow. Come to think of it, "old-fashioned" is not exactly the right word for a futuristic satire that teases the intellect while determinedly refusing to tax it.
In 1996 (three years in the movie's future), Los Angeles continues to devolve into devastating riots, taking the form—in the film's opening sequence—of a giant melee between sadistic über-criminal Simon Phoenix (Wesley Snipes, devouring scenery like a starving man) and police Sgt. John Spartan (Stallone), a wantonly destructive top cop with the nickname "Demolition Man" ("Send a maniac to catch one," Spartan "reflects"). Wrongly pinned with the deaths of dozens of innocent hostages, Spartan finds himself sentenced to CryoPrison along with his enemy Phoenix. But when Phoenix awakes and escapes from CryoPrison in 2032, the complacent police department of crime-free San Angeles can't tell its crimefighting ass from its crimefighting elbow. Its only hope? To fight fire with fire by thawing out the "Demolition Man" and siccing him on Phoenix. To the delight of Lieutenant Lenina Huxley (a well-cast Sandra Bullock), she becomes Spartan's guide to a baffling future.
Marco Brambilla emerged from obscurity to direct Demolition Man and the 1997 Alicia Silverstone/Benicio Del Toro action comedy Excess Baggage before promptly returning to obscurity (actually, to the art world, where his video and photography projects continue to thrive). Brambilla brings a fearless verve to Demolition Man, a Joel Silver production with photography by Alex Thomson (Excalibur, Kenneth Branagh's Hamlet) and a pinball-game script credited to Daniel Waters (Heathers) and Robert Reneau and Peter M. Lenko. Along with self-conscious Hollywood satire (including the film-opening image of the Hollywood sign on fire, Bullock's action-movie-loving cop, a President Schwarzenegger joke, and a direct reference to Stallone's Rambo character), the picture offers equal-opportunity social critique: the future world can be take as a conservative fable of the necessity of a strong national defense as well as a cautionary tale against conservatism-turned-fascism: the sanitized world includes a verbal morality statute that's also a shot at the MPAA.
While poking fun at our insatiably violent society, Demolition Man is itself merrily violent, resembling its own remarks about a society in which every restaurant is owned by the same fast-food joint, "the only restaurant to survive the Franchise Wars." The junk-food flick gets pleasingly vivid flavors from character actors like Nigel Hawthorne, Bill Cobbs and Bob Gunton, as well as injections of sugar and fat from Rob Schneider and Denis Leary, hilariously cast as underground revolutionary Edgar Friendly, the stand-up-comedian's answer to Che Guevara. Demolition Man doesn't quite go far enough, instead settling for cheap gags and cheap thrills, but it tickles fairly well for a couple of hours of crashes and fireballs.
If Demolition Man never quite achieves convincing depth on Blu-ray, it still looks its best yet in this hi-def presentation. Most importantly, Warner affords the picture a naturally filmlike look by forgoing digital tampering. Film grain and contrast look just right, black level is satisfyingly deep, and the subdued color palette looks as it should, while newly discernable textures help to make the Blu-ray stand head-and-shoulders above DVD. Likewise, the lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix makes the most of the film's original surround elements, with potent sound effects never drowning out the dialogue or music.
This catalog title comes with a vintage bonus feature: a nicely informative commentary with director Marco Brambilla and producer Joel Silver (the latter mostly just putting in a token "appearance" at the track's outset). Brambilla talks a good game about the picture, explaining his approach to every filmic element. Also on hand is the film's "Theatrical Trailer" (2:06, SD).
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