Picks and Pans Review: Escape from New York

updated 07/27/1981 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/27/1981 AT 01:00 AM EDT

The year is 1997. The U.S. has apparently survived a war with Russia; Manhattan has been turned into a maximum-security prison with a 33-foot-high wall around it. "To enter," the movie ad boasts, "is insane, to escape is impossible." Maybe the first part is true, but not the second. With the profits he made from low-budget horror fodder like Halloween and The Fog, John Carpenter finally got to direct and co-write a film he conceived back in 1974, when he was still John Who. The President (Donald Pleasence) is kidnapped and held captive on the island; police chief Lee Van Cleef gives inmate Kurt Russell the assignment to free the Prez. Gratuitous savagery and implausibility ensue. With the exception of the stark sets and Carpenter's dramatic synthesizer compositions, played loud enough to give a scalp massage, the film is predictable and clichéd. Russell, who starred in Carpenter's TV movie Elvis, has a patch over one eye, but for all his grunts and dumb sneering, he'd be better if it were over his mouth. Mrs. Carpenter, Adrienne Barbeau, provides little more than a world-class jiggle as the companion of mad scientist Harry Dean Stanton. Soul star Isaac Hayes is the evil Main Man, cruising in a limo through the rotten Big Apple (actually, most scenes were shot in St. Louis). This film is really about escaping in L.A.—to the kind of maximum security and freedom a director wins through bankability. (R)

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