A particularly malicious criminal is cryogenically frozen along with a top policeman to keep him under control if ever they are released. Come the year 2032, that's exactly what happens, with Snipes on the rampage and only Stallone with the ability to stop him.
"Send a maniac to catch a maniac!" yells Sly, launching himself back into muscleman mode and possibly the maddest, baddest, most enjoyably silly action flick of the 1993. It's 1996: anarchy rules, Los Angeles is up in flames, and Stallone is the crack LAPD cop and titular Demolition Man, so-called 'cause he blows up buildings, who is sentenced to an eternity in the cooler (literally, as he's cryogenically frozen) when a hostage rescue goes horribly wrong and innocent townsfolk die. Banged up with him in cryoprison is the man behind the crime — Wesley Snipes, bleach-blond, crazy as hell, with a real bad attitude —and the two serve out their time until parole comes up, Snipes escapes and Stallone is defrosted to snare him.
And here's where the riot really starts, as the pair — a dynamite screen combination — explode into the brave new world of San Angeles, 2032: squeaky clean, law-abiding, much, much too good to be true, urged to its state of Utopia under the seemingly benevolent rule of founder Dr. Cocteau (Hawthorne, quietly megalomanic) and troubled only occasionally by an underground Resistance hankering after good old-fashioned 20th Century pleasures like swearing, booze and sex. Little wonder the new age is utterly unprepared for Snipes (rehabbed in cryo as an even more homicidal maniac with the strength of a small army) and Stallone (rehabbed as, er, a seamstress who can knit a mean jumper but fortunately hasn't lost all his muscular faculties) blasting their way through the action.
There's a thin plot to be had of the World Domination kind — Dr. Cocteau is mad and wants to take over the world, and uses Snipes to help him kill the leader of the Resistance (Denis Leary); Snipes gets madder and wants to take over the world, and the leader of the Resistance rebels; Stallone gets caught inbetween — but what really makes this movie swing is the sheer sense of fun in making it which is conveyed to the screen.
Snipes and Stallone clearly had a blast, and you can't help but share the joke: from the 20th Century memorabilia collected by 21st Century cop Sandra Bullock (including a poster for Lethal Weapon 3), to in-references like the Schwarzenegger Presidential Library ("Don't tell me," groans Stallone, "I don't want to know"). Snipes gets to quote Scarface and Sly sends himself up something rotten. The techno-gadgetry is just brilliant, and there's even sort of a message in here somewhere ("Hurting people is not a good thing," chides our Sly, "well, sometimes it is").
First-time director Brambilla delivers the ultraviolence with spectacular comic book results and the panache of a pro, managing from a running start to buildup the mind-boggling action into a climactic special effects frenzy so stupendous as to freeze any criticism in its tracks. If ever there was a movie equivalent to the one-night stand this is it — not necessarily something you'll remember next day but fast, furious and damn good fun while it lasts.
Think Rocky I not IV, with a tongue firmly in its cheek and lots of what Sly does best: kicking ass.