Demolition Man: Simon Phoenix, A Love Story

I was never legally old enough to watch pretty much any of the films that I’ll end up talking about at the time I first watched them, but I’m certain I’m not alone in that. Watching from behind newspapers and through banisters after we were supposed to be in bed was the business in the Francois household. “No I’m not looking, Mum. No I haven’t ripped holes in this magazine, Mum.” Exposure to horror, action, and any combination of the two was drunk hungrily down into our emotional lexicon pretty early on, which is probably why my brother and I spent the first 18 years of our lives trying to murder each other with household appliances and wondering why it hurt our own hand and didn’t make a cool noise when we punched each other in the mouth.

In a Friday night ritual that endured until we were given the OK to go to the cinema sans adults, we’d be allowed to pick a film to rent (each, and one to share) down Choices Video Rental, before getting a Chinese takeaway. Since we’d never seen trailers for anything we ended up watching, our decisions were based solely on posters we saw at the bus stop, on the marquee at the flicks, and on the front covers of the VHS boxes. If you’ve ever been put under time constraint in a 90s video shop by a parent, you will fully understand just how devastating the results can be when you panic. I can’t begin to tell you the terrible shite I have been forced to endure based purely on a split second decision forced on me by a red faced, hungry matriarch at a till point. When a movie was new out, they would line the top row of the genre section entirely with copies of it, which is how my mother came to find us staring slack jawed at twenty boxes featuring a bleached blonde Wesley Snipes staring down Rocky in a beret. To this day, I still feel like it might be basically the only thing my brother and I instantly agreed on. Ever. We ended up renting it so many times, that in order to save herself money, my Ma actually bought it for me for Christmas that year, and when I unwrapped it, it wasn’t even an ex-rental, such were the evident levels of affection for this film in our household. I was 9 years old when this film came out, 10 when I watched it, and I would spend the next 20 odd years of my life trying to replicate that feeling of being the first person to open a VHS box and peel off the plastic from the tape. I haven’t got there, but people tell me the first time you hold your child in your arms is alright, so let’s just compare it to that.

Before we start this, I need to tell you something, and I don’t know that all of you will understand; I had never liked Sylvester Stallone. At all. And I never really have since. Rambo is alright cos he doesn’t speak, and Rocky is fine, but it was never Sly that made those films for me, and other than Judge Dredd I honestly couldn’t really give a toss about anything else he’s done. Not because of him, anyway. Look, maybe I did cry watching Daylight, but only because they left that cop with the broken back to drown in the tunnel. And I only watch Cliffhanger when it’s on because it still kills me that Derice Bannock from Cool Runnings and that guy from Casualty are in it. The fact is this; Sly bumbles around like a sentient Christmas ham every time he is supposed to be having an emotion of any description, and it’s distracting. He’s got one character, and the character is disgruntled, sarcastic, and then furious. That’s it. True, the same COULD be said of Arnie, or Dolph, but I think you’ll find 30 years of people quoting lines from Terminator on what has got to average out to at least once a day for most of your life, means they obviously don’t care. As for Dolph, maybe I’m the only one quoting Universal Soldier in my head every day, but maybe you should have taken your…medication.

Hopefully you’ve already seen this cinematic masterpiece so you know, but let’s pretend you’re living an inferior version of all your life could be, and you don’t. Demolition Man opens in 1996 (three years after it was made) over a flaming Hollywood sign, LA styling like a flaming wheelie bin. Perhaps not so far from the truth these days, but I’ve visited just the once, and I don’t want to offend anyone. The film was directed by Marco Brambilla, a video artist you’ve never heard of, whose only mainstream films still to date are this, and Excess Baggage, a movie about Cher from Clueless staging her own kidnapping. Make of that what you will.

Stallone’s Sergeant John Spartan has taken himself off against direct orders to take down long standing nemesis Snipes’ Simon Phoenix. Another thing I need you to know before we get into the meat of the actual movie, is this; Simon Phoenix is my favourite action baddie of all time. OF ALL TIME. Go ahead and list away, but man turns up with bleached robo afro hair, looking like some understudy member of De La Soul who saw Beetlejuice one too many times. Attitude for days and a wardrobe like charity shop leftovers from a sad clown convention. Every line is instantly quotable forever, he has two different coloured eyes, and makes fun of absolutely everyone before he kills them. Everyone. As an aspiring 10 year old smartass, this was priceless education to me. Like a rich man’s Dennis Rodman, just roundhouse kicking everyone TO DEATH.

Spartan beats up a few bad guys and blows up an abandoned warehouse in the process of bagging Phoenix. The warehouse turns out to be full of hostages, all now dead. In 1996, prison has apparently been replaced by cryogenic freezing in what looks almost exactly like an upmarket Laserquest set up with the lights turned on and the dry ice all the way up. Spartan goes down for involuntary manslaughter, and Phoenix presumably for crimes against fashion.

Very suddenly, it’s the year 2032, and everyone is dressed in their Zara Home curtains and tiny square hats. That’s how you know it’s the future. That’s always how you knew it was the future. Despite being set only 30 something years out from the start of the film, people had abandoned trousers and proper shoes in favour of Roman togas in an extremely neutral colour palette. Demolition Man wasn’t the only film guilty of making the future look drab and/or weird as fuck. Total Recall had it’s fair share of mustard and flesh coloured tent like abominations, Bladerunner with it’s odd rubber band ensembles, and let’s not even bother talking about the Art Attack back room that had been pillaged to costume the cast of The Fifth Element.

Lame weird grown up teenage Officer Lenina Huxley, Sandra Bullock’s infuriatingly enthusiastic police officer is obsessed with the 20th Century. I believe this was the first time I’d seen Sandra Bullock in anything, and even in 1993, I knew she needed to have a word with make up about her eyebrows. Her office is rammed with shite from Spencer Gifts, and she immediately makes no bones about the fact that she is very bored of policing in a society where there’s an electronic swear jar in every room and no one has been murdered for 20 years. Great for her then that Simon Phoenix wakes up and immediately kills a load of people by kicking, punching, and stabbing them to death with a fountain pen. As soon as he gets outside, he is inexplicably wearing baby blue dungarees with a neon orange string vest and, guys, I am in love all over again.

Anyway, very quickly we learn that someone has implanted vast amounts of future bot computer knowledge into Simon’s brain whilst he was sleeping. He knows how to use the weird cars, the interactive phone booths, he knows the kickboxing and the guns, and starts hearing a voice in his head telling him to kill Edgar Friendly, underground King of the Hobos. Denis Leary plays Friendly as, well, himself. A sarky, anarchic grubby pup wanting to live outside the laws of San Angeles in 2032. This basically only amounts to wanting to use curse words and not have his retinas scanned everywhere he goes chanting “be well” like every other human clone, but the heart wants what it wants, and unfortunately that means him and his heart have to live in the sewer. Corrupt politician and founder of this weird, gross identikit way of life, Nigel Hawthorne as Dr. Raymond Cocteau, wants Edgar out, hence the secret unfreezing of Wesley and his string vest. As Phoenix endeavours to complete his murderous task, whilst spending the rest of his free time rampaging his way around the city kicking everyone in the chest and murdering sad, limp coppers left, right and centre, it becomes clear that the only man who can stop him is John “Demolition Man” Spartan. So the powers that be decide to unfreeze him. Chaos reigns.

I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t watched this film since I was 10. Initially I watched it every other day before school whilst eating my breakfast, then it fell off to the 15 or 16 times a year, and now it’s been a good 5 years with no Simon Phoenix at all. Wesley Snipes made other films where he kicks people in their teeth, and so I had to make room for them in the schedule. But what strikes me most on a re-watch, is just how accurate (other than the magnolia sheets everyone is wearing) it’s vision of future technology is. As a kid I was left speechless by the video phones and self drive cars. But that’s Facetime mate, and I, a scrud who would be living below ground eating rat burgers with Denis Leary, have it in my phone, right now. I feel like calling up Apple and telling them I know where they got all their touchscreen tech and ideas for Siri from. The cryogenic freezing, the lasers, the cars, the weird small food served on metal sheets. One can only hope that the Schwarzenegger Presidential Library that Sandra Bullock brings up is closer to us than the year 2032.

If I have to score this, it is a review after all; I owe it to my 9 year old self to give it a full 10. 8 points belong to Wesley Snipes’ dungarees and string vest get up (reminiscent on a further rumination of a pilled up Rab C Nesbitt), 1 to his one-liner sick burns, and the other 1 to his hair. You’ll notice there are no photos of Sly or Sandra in this post, and that’s because they simply do not matter.

20 years later and I am still asking people what their boggle is. If you know, you know. Be well.

2 thoughts on “Demolition Man: Simon Phoenix, A Love Story

  1. A triumphant review of a true classic. I remember renting this and Last Action Hero on a school sock day and wishing that there could be a film with Simon Phoenix and Benedict where they went around creatively beating the crap out of people and cracking excellent jokes.

    Be well and sea shell.

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