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Two Action Films from Warner

Demolition Man (August 11/11)

Demolition Man casts Sylvester Stallone as John Spartan, a tough-as-nails cop who manages to take down his notorious nemesis (Wesley Snipes' Simon Phoenix) during an especially brutal battle - with problems emerging as it becomes clear that Spartan's antics have resulted in the deaths of several hostages. Spartan and Phoenix are both forced to serve their sentences in a newly-formed "Cryo Prison," where, decades later, Phoenix manages to escape and begins wreaking havoc within the now-peaceful landscape. (Spartan is, of course, subsequently unfrozen and tasked with bringing Phoenix to justice once more.) Though it's clearly been designed to operate as a fast-paced thriller, Demolition Man is, for the most part, far more effective as a fish-out-of-water comedy - as filmmaker Marco Brambilla has suffused the proceedings with disappointingly (and curiously) inert action sequences that eventually wear the viewer down. It's clear, then, that the film is at its best when focused on Spartan's exasperated efforts at blending into his new surroundings, with the inclusion of several laugh-out-loud funny comedic misunderstandings (eg Spartan's growing irritation with the notorious three seashells) ensuring that Demolition Man remains surprisingly watchable through much of its midsection. The film begins to fizzle out demonstrably as it progresses, however, as Brambilla, working from a script by Daniel Waters, Robert Reneau, and Peter M. Lenkov, becomes more and more concerned with Spartan and Phoenix's tedious cat-and-mouse games - with the less-than-engrossing atmosphere compounded by an increased emphasis on the tiresome exploits of several underground rebels (including Denis Leary's Edgar Friendly). The end result is a sporadically amusing yet pervasively underwhelming bit of early '90s cheese, which is a shame, certainly, given the strength of both Stallone and Snipes' work here.

out of

Executive Decision (August 13/11)

A smart, adult thriller, Executive Decision follows a mild-mannered intelligence analyst (Kurt Russell's David Grant) as he and a group of commandoes successfully board a commercial airliner that's been taken over by vicious terrorists - with the film, for the most part, revolving around the team's ongoing and surprisingly meticulous efforts at taking down the armed evildoers. It's an inherently captivating premise that's primarily employed to enthralling effect by Stuart Baird, although it's just as clear that Baird does take his time in wholeheartedly drawing the viewer into the proceedings - as the movie boasts an entertaining yet far-from-engrossing opening half hour that's devoted primarily to exposition and character development. This deliberateness pays off exponentially once the action shifts to the aforementioned airplane, however, with the inclusion of several tense, thoroughly compelling sequences - eg Grant and the soldiers board the plane, a co-pilot discovers the would-be saviors' presence, etc, etc - triggering the film's transformation from a solid actioner into a seriously (and unexpectedly) enthralling piece of work. The film's midsection, which consists primarily of stand-alone set pieces detailing the heroes' airborne exploits, manages to sustain an atmosphere of pervasive suspense that proves impossible to resist, and there's little doubt that the action, when it does come, is far more exciting and electrifying than one might've anticipated. It's subsequently fairly easy to look past a slight case of overlength that crops up towards the end - eg how many close calls for the good guys do we really need? - with the end result one of the more impressive thrillers to come out of Hollywood in quite some time.

out of

About the Blu-rays: Both titles arrive on Blu-ray courtesy of Warner Bros. armed with 1080p transfers and a smattering of bonus features. It's worth noting, however, that this version of Executive Decision is not the theatrical cut, as each and every reference to the terrorists' religion has inexplicably been excised. It's an odd (and needless) bit of censorship that mars what is otherwise a fine release.
© David Nusair