Has anyone seen a more glassy eyed, cash register within the retinas, performance on television than Tony Hawkes presenting Lights Camera Accident on Channel 5? The show is another collection of generally low quality accident clips in which a child falls off a swing or a fat woman sits down, but the treat of watching such lazy delivery, mixing a loathing of television and a loathing of oneself, makes it almost compulsive (unless of course you have bothered to buy new batteries for your remote control and can therefore turn over from your chair. Why do I never put AA on my shopping list?).
Hawkes is at his most pained when trying to deliver the weak punchlines to his tatty script (particularly the one that I wrote - sorry, but I did) but punchlines are always difficult. Hard enough to find for a brief joke, frequently painful when created as the out for a sketch and impossible at the end of a film, surely? And yet certain films have actually managed to have laugh out loud punchlines.
The other evening I was watching Escape from LA. Should you have missed it, because you were not a breathless 12 year old when you saw the original and you weren’t gagging and chomping at the bit ( it might have been the bit that was causing the gagging) for a return of Snake Plissken, Escape from LA is a retread of the original, but with a bigger budget.
Despite having a budget of 50 million though, Escape from LA manages to have a series of special effects that are both clever and laughable, a B movie with a big budget, like Titanic but shorter and less admissible in court as a justification for multiple homicide.
In the original, the President, the unblinking and smooth fleshed Donald Pleasance, has shot out of his aeroplane escape pod and landed in New York. This being 1999, it is now a maximum security penitentiary with lawless streets full of the weird. Snake Plissken, war hero and criminal mastermind, played as a Eastwood impersonation by Kurt Russell, is offered freedom if he goes in, saves the president and obtains a tape that will rescue the world from war. Just to make sure he comes back, his veins are injected with microscopic bombs that will erode to the core and detonate within 24 hours.
Unleash the wrestlers, wild haired Frank Doubleday (whereabouts information required), fat cons in drag and Isaac Hayes. The sequel is a few years on, this time LA is a maximum security prison and the president’s daughter has decided to have a weekend getaway with a Guevera-a-like and deliver to him a device that could shut down the world. Enter Snake again, joined by surf crazy Peter Fonda, weasely Steve Buscemi, Pam Grier as a post op transsexual and Cliff Robertson as the president. Check out Cliff Robertson’s ears, they really are very long, to the point of being inordinately frightening, especially when they wiggle during his angry acting.
Escape from LA matches Escape from New York almost scene by scene, with each ludicrous scenario from the first film re-invented with an even more ludicrous idea. Where once Snake was thrown into a pen and made to wrestle WWF psycho Ox Baker, he is now thrown into a pen and made to shoot baskets in a limited time period. Should he fail, he’ll be shot.
Many critics and fans complained that the film was just a remake, but it is a charmingly outrageous film and a reasonable piece of comic book nonsense, plus...
(spoiler if you give a damn)
....Plissken shuts down the whole world at the end.
In Escape from LA , Plissken delivers the president his device to shut down sections of the world that are threatening him, but when, after a brief moment of macho prevarication (watch the ears move) , the president presses the 'shut down all power of our enemies' button, all that happens is the voice of Steve Buscemi pops up and starts taking us on a map of the stars tour.
Cliff looks furious. Not a bad punchline, but nowhere near as good as the original. Here Donald Pleasance stands po-faced and self-important as he addresses the leaders of the world, places a tape containing vital information into a player and some upbeat jazz bursts out of the speakers. It is Donald’s shocked expression that made this laugh out loud on first sitting.
It’s at about this point that I have just remembered that it is quite impossible to relay jokes secondhand on page or in pub conversations -- "Then Eddie Izzard says ‘oooh, like a big cow made of James Mason and jam in William Shatner’s hair’ going oooh I am a fish in a harpsichord’ , it was brilliant".
Other great punchlines are the end of Some Like It Hot and Birdy.
Right, I have shown myself up, I shall leave it there.