Movie News & Reviews

'Demolition Man' inexplicably good example of cop film genre

My arrest record is so thick it has to be drawn into court by a teamof a dozen oxen, but I still love a good cop story. Ever since EdgarAllen Poe's story "The Gold-Bug That Shot JFK and Mr. Burns," thedetective and crime genre has become one of art's best.

A four-week series on Cop Month can't help but fail to even scratchthat genre's surface, but when discussing the American justice system,failure seems like a pretty relevant method. A good place to start,then, is with a movie that probably should have been awful but isinexplicably good: 1993's Demolition Man.

When loose cannon cop Sylvester Stallone is sent in to capture thehomicidal Wesley Snipes, thirty hostages end up dead. Snipes andStallone are both sentenced to a new cryogenic prison program, but 36years later, Snipes breaks out, running wild in the gentle, pacifistfuture. Helpless to stop him, local cops must unfreeze Stallone toonce more bring Snipes to justice.

Good science fiction stories ask "what if?" and go from there. OfWesley Snipes, Demolition Man asks "What would happen if DennisRodman learned tae kwon do, turned evil, and divided his time betweenmugging the citizens of southern California and every camera pointedhis way?"

The answer is we'd get a movie that acts like a stereotypicalHollywood action flick but comes at you with a perverse sense ofhumor. Instead of songs, the "oldies" station plays classic commercialjingles; salt, swearing, and sex have been outlawed; in a sign of trueprescience, Arnold Schwartzenegger's elected president. In one of myfavorite moments, gunless police are instructed to approach themurderous Snipes "with extreme assertiveness."

It's goofy, funny, engaging worldbuilding. Admittedly, most of it'sjust exposited in our lap by naive cop Sandra Bullock, but while she'sdressed in that uniform, Bullock could explain to me I had retroactivedouble-cancer that killed me six months ago and I wouldn't mind.

As for Stallone, he's the kind of cop who rolls in, explodes amini-mall, then makes a one-liner so corny it throws a cold shadow onthe entire history of jokes. Still, there's a little pathos in hisfailure to connect to a future that's left him behind.

Much more important is his race with Snipes to destroy as much ofSoCal as possible. A movie of many visions and lessons, DemolitionMan reveals two vital truths for a happy society: all we need todo to solve our problems is exchange some fluids and blow stuff up.