When I go to see a movie produced by Joel Silver, purveyor of the everything-goes-boom school of high-tech action overkill (he’s the force behind the Lethal Weapon and Die Hard series), I’m grateful for anything that can pass for light entertainment. The futuristic thriller Demolition Man (R) comes barreling off the Silver assembly line (even in 21st-century San Angeles, it seems, there are plenty of eminently smashable plate-glass windows around), but until it kicks into full-tilt destructo mode the picture is an intermittently amusing sci-fi satire.
Sylvester Stallone, as a cop who inadvertently kills 30 people during a showdown (accidents will happen), and Wesley Snipes, as a high-spirited psychovillain, are placed in the California CryoPenitentiary, frozen for several decades, then thawed out in the year 2032. The joke is that society has become so systematized and pleasure-denying that it’s now a world of wimps. The police, trained to capture criminals with computerized gadgets, have no direct experience of physical violence. Sexual contact is illegal, as are alcohol and caffeine, and when you utter a four-letter word in public, a buzzer goes off and a prissy British voice informs you that you’re to be fined one credit for violating the ”verbal morality code.” (Ice cream, I believe, is still allowed.)
The movie, of course, is goofing on the puritan chic of the ’90s, the new righteousness with which people are divorcing themselves from their bad habits and incorrect thoughts. But then there’s Stallone, the big, beefy avatar of red-meat values. He’s a winning comedian in this movie, rolling his eyes at a world that no longer places any value on testosterone. Stallone gets some lite chemistry going with Sandra Bullock, as a cop who’s such a product of the post-aggressive future that she speaks like an android. As the baddie, Snipes, hair dyed the color of an upset stomach, gives a performance of operatic schlockiness, laughing in the face of…everything.
Demolition Man is as much a piece of cheese as the grade-B sci-fi movies of the ’50s, which also satirized, with a kind of touching literal-mindedness, the brainy emasculation of the future. The main difference is that those films didn’t climax with 45 minutes of smashing mayhem. A Joel Silver action movie released during the fall is a bit of an oxymoron anyway, but even if it’s the promise of overwrought violence that lures people into theaters, I suspect it will be the quieter scenes—the ones with a pretense of wit—that keep them satisfied. B-