‘Demolition Man’ or — A Mot(BLEEP)er Fuc(BLEEP)ing Good Film?
Re-watching ‘Demolition Man’ (1993) again for the first time in over twenty years last week I was struck by one glaring, massive issue it has (I’m not going to say ‘criticism’; the film’s too enjoyable for that), which is this — the second half is nowhere near as good as the first.
Now this isn’t to say the second half of ‘Demolition Man’ isn’t fun, well executed or that it drops the ball; it just doesn’t run with it as deftly as what came before. It only suffers in comparison because the first hour or so of ‘Demolition Man’ is borderline perfection. It’s smart, funny, exciting and has a great central conceit with a nicely calibrated sense of self-awareness. In short, it’s a total blast.
The story? Crime has been eliminated in the future. This is wonderful except when a super-violent, super-criminal from the past is thawed out of cryogenic suspended animation and realises he can now run riot like a fox in a chicken-shed. The solution? Unthaw a super-violent, super-cop from the past from cryogenic suspended animation to catch the maniac. And mayhem, and hilarity, ensues.
The way this premise is set-up and how every single ounce of comedic mileage is extracted from it is genuinely impressive and worthy of serious study (the initial script was by the writer of ‘Heathers’ so that explains a lot). It mixes cartoon comedy with serious satire surprisingly smoothly and even though it doesn’t have the bite of, say, Verhoeven at his best what it lacks in acidic punch it makes up for in sheer likability. It also has one of the best, and most effectively, sustained running-gags (a very tricky feat to pull-off) in 90’s action cinema in the form of the ‘swear detector’. Once this conceit is set-up all the movie has to do is sound that buzzer, even faintly in the background, and I cracked-up every single time I heard it.
Stallone is perfectly cast, simply only needing to wander around being himself, although it’s both Sandra Bullock and Wesley Snipes who completely steal the show with both showing a real flare for comedy and completely getting the gag they’re being asked to sell.
Yet, as with most action/comedy films, the silliness has to take a back-seat in order for the movie to wrap up all the narrative and plot threads. This is where ‘Demolition Man’ resorts to being simply more of a straight forward actioner, hence losing some of the knowing pizzazz it starts with. But this trick — balancing the comedy and action and plot — is something very few films effectively manage (‘The In-Laws’ is an rare example of getting it right). So it’s not a criticism, just an inherent aspect of this type of movie and the structures of their nature.
So it’s less that the second half is weak and more a case that ‘Demolition Man’s first half is so strong. And, like Taco Bell nouveau cuisine, that first half is so deliciously delightful and easy to swallow.