Skip to main content

Hipster Holy Grail: New Crime City - Los Angeles 2020 (1994)

The Hipster Holy Grail is my ongoing quest to review an obscure movie before it becomes cool to talk about it. Good, bad, doesn't matter.  It just has to be at least 10 years old and have less than 1,000 ratings on IMDb. This week, I watched....

The Short Bit for People Who Don't Like to Read Reviews

New Crime City: Los Angeles 2020 is a prime cut of stupid fun.  It's not a "classic" in the same vein as other transcendently bad movies, but it is a classic B-movie - something that trades in logic, acting, and originality for a glut of cliches and practical effects that do exactly what you need.  Plus, arbitrary tits.  Angry, hostile, arbitrary tits.

My Rating: 4 / 5 (Novice Bad Movie)

The Plot Summary

We open with some text crawls explaining the rich back story of the world of New Crime City: Los Angeles 2020.  But they take too long, so let me sum it up in ten words: The country got crappy; they turned LA into a prison.

The mechanics of how the titular New Crime City works are a little ambiguous to me.  On the face of it, it seems like your typical dystopian future setup where the justice system has been totally thrown out the window and accused criminals are summarily deported without a trial, even for minor offenses.  You get this impression when you see a bus full of ordinary-looking folks, including a woman and her baby (who I guess was arrested as an accomplice for whatever mom did?), are driven through a security gate and shoved out.

But that can't be entirely how it works since the movie opens with the public execution of Anthony Ricks (Rick Rossovich).  What's the point of executing prisoners when you can just chuck 'em over the wall into NCC?  Conversely: if we're so eager to bring back public executions, why are we deporting violent offenders?  Seems like the way it should work is that NCC is where you put shoplifters and shit, and then you just line up your rapists and murderers in front of a TV camera and gun them down en masse.  That's cheaper, right?

It's all kind of a moot point, as it turns out, since Ricks's execution has been staged from the get-go.  Apparently, Ricks either was or is a well-trained super soldier type.  I'm not clear if he actually served and turned to a life of crime afterward or if he's just that good at crime that the military has taken notice.  Either way, his skills are of great value to the government, but his crimes - whatever they were, I kinda missed that part - were so horrendous that the public demands he be killed.  So, in order for anybody to make use of his super-soldiering, they have to fake his death first.

Which... still isn't a good explanation.  Like, what the fuck does a dystopian government care about PR?  You either ignore the public or you just outright lie to them.  That's what a dystopia is.  Fake executions are some bush league bullshit.

Anyway.  The point of all this is that a high profile military type, Wynorski (Stacy Keach), needs somebody like Ricks to help him out on an urgent mission.  It seems that the worst gang in all of NCC, led by the ruthless Ironhead (Rick Dean), has created a new strain of MegaVirus.  Wynorski shows Ricks some grotty footage of people who have been infected so we know just how bad and gross it is.  Some of Wynorski's men have tried to infiltrate NCC to retrieve MegaVirus samples, but Ironhead found and killed them, then sent a video message back, threatening to unleash the MegaVirus on the United States and kill millions of people.

So, Wynorski offers Ricks a deal.  If Ricks goes into NCC and gets the MegaVirus, he also gets his freedom.  Otherwise, he just gets killed for real.  For further assurance that Ricks won't just run away, Wynorski's men are targeting NCC with nukes and will blow the whole thing up if they don't get the samples within, oh, say, 24 hours.

Ricks agrees and they load him onto the next bus of deportees.  As soon as everybody's kicked off the bus, they're mobbed by NCC punks.  Ironhead's gang shows up and drafts a few of them, and then pretty much everybody else is killed just for the hell of it.  Ricks narrowly escapes and starts his journey.

In short order, he meets and befriends Darla (Sherrie Rose), a blonde badass(?) who used to be part of Ironhead's gang / brothel.  Darla got into a scuffle with him recently and left, hoping to escape NCC entirely, but her plan hasn't totally worked out.  She's pretty much ready to ditch Ricks from the get-go, but once he tells her about those nukes, she decides to help him.

And then, almost immediately, both of them get kidnapped by Juice (Ramsay Ross) and his gang.  Juice is another colorful character whose special quirk is that he zaps people with electric prods.  This isn't that interesting on the face of it, but Darla explains to Ricks for our benefit: NCC doesn't have electricity, so all the kids who were born in the city right after it was walled off from the US think that Juice's cattle prods are magic.  As such, they revere him as a mighty wizard.

Except... NCC very clearly does have electricity since there's lights everywhere and Ironhead was able to record a video of himself.  Also, Juice is introduced via his own personal rock band that's wailing on electric guitars.  Maybe Juice is revered because he re-established a power plant or something to get everything running again, but why would they think he's magic?  Oh, wait, what's that, you're telling me this doesn't factor into the plot so I should just move on?

Juice locks Ricks and Darla into a death arena along with another unlucky bastard, then surrounds the arena with onlookers.  He forces Ricks and the unlucky bastard to fight for everyone's amusement.  To no one's surprise, Ricks wins in a matter of seconds.  Then Juice tries to kill Ricks with those cattle prods, but Ricks handily reverses that attack and fries Juice to death.  Then Juice's gang has a weird little lull where they're not sure if they're supposed to kill Ricks, so he and Darla run away.  It isn't until after they're out the door that anybody decides to chase them.

Ricks steals a car and a short chase ensues.  He and Darla are able to get away from Juice's gang, but then the car runs out of gas and they sputter to an unexpected stop.  Conveniently for them, they wind up only ten feet away from Mother (Elvira De La Puente), an obviously religious woman who's standing around with a shopping cart full of gas canisters.  Mother doesn't immediately try to kill them, so Ricks assumes she's an ally and helps himself to some of her gas.  In turn, Mother hops into their car and hitches a ride back to her hideout, a gorgeous church with a beautiful, green courtyard.

The church appears to be a quiet, scenic little sanctuary helmed by Brother Oswald (Ric Stoneback), a portly and austere friar-like dude.  Mother and Oswald offer Ricks and Darla a place to stay for the night, plus they cook them a nice dinner and give them some wine.  Naturally, since this is a movie about a post-apocalyptic prison city, the niceties are immediately suspicious.  But Ricks and Darla are a little dense and can't quite understand why they should be suspect, so Sister Maria (Cecica Bernasconi), a random nun / servant, is forced to tip them off: the churchfolk are horrifying cannibals!!! OH NO!!!

Oswald drugs Ricks' and Darla's wine and ties them up after they pass out.  Ricks wakes up in a locked bedroom, but Maria helps him escape.  Then she very quickly and clunkily gives us some exposition: Oswald and Mother have amassed a cult of followers since New Crime City was formed by telling them that God has chosen them to lead.  In turn, they have been able to bend their followers to their will, up to and including murdering random people and butchering them for food.

That part of the story is okay with me - it's over the top, sure, but it's a nice juice background detail that adds flavor and horror to the movie world.  But New Crime City doesn't quit while it's ahead.  Maria goes on to explain that the cult began their cannibal rampage by turning on their kids.  Which means that I'm now in the uncomfortable position of picturing how that first conversation went.

Oswald: "Good news, everybody!  I just got another call from the big man upstairs!"

[Applause from the crowd.]

Oswald: "Yeah, so, he wants us to eat our kids."


Random Cultist: "Um... like a parable?  Like we should consume their resources so we are stronger and better able to take care of them?"

Oswald: "No, like eat eat.  More good news: I raided that Costco's down the street and got a ton of mayonnaise and bread, so the sandwich line is going to form to your left right over here."

Random Cultist: "Hang on, Os.  Don't we have, like, prisoners and enemies and stuff that we could eat first?  And honestly, kids don't even have that much meat on 'em.  I gotta be honest with you.  Seems like God might be fucking with you."

Oswald: "Oh yeah?  Who's the one talking to him, numb nuts?  Now put your daughter on this spit and let's get to work."

Random Cultist: "Checks out.  [To daughter] Sorry, hon, God works in tasty ways."

Pretty stupid, but, hey, cults are fucked up.  So, let's run with it.

Ricks grabs a gun and then he and Maria find the room where the cultists have stashed Darla.  They hold Oswald and Mother at gunpoint, then free Darla and start to escape.  Then Maria asks for a gun and a grenade and tells Ricks to go ahead - she has some unfinished business with the church.  This leads to one of my favorite moments in the whole movie.

The next time we cut back to Maria, we see that she has somehow singlehandedly positioned Oswald and Mother into a sort of execution totem pole.  Oswald is tied up and standing on the ground with Mother standing on his shoulders, and she has a rope tied from her neck to the ceiling.  Then Maria tosses the grenade at Oswald.  So, if the explosion doesn't kill Mother, then the death of her Oswald-gallows will.  Naturally, the whole room goes up in a giant fireball and kills everyone, so the whole thing is pretty overwrought - but I appreciate the creativity nevertheless.

Ricks and Darla drive off for more misadventures.  Along the way, a random nobody shoots at them and hits Ricks in the arm.  They pull over and sneak into an abandoned hotel to do some quick first aid.

This is where I was really worried New Crime City would hit a wall and start to slog.  Both Ricks and Darla look at the movie counter and say, "We're about 50 minutes in, better start with some exposition."  They each get in some clunky dialogue about their past and their cynicism for the future.  We learn that Ricks had a wife and kid once, but they were killed so he could have a dark and angry past.  And Darla's just generally angry because she never had the chance to be a mother.  It's all very stilted and halfhearted and stops the movie dead.

Fortunately, the movie cuts all that off with a gratuitous sex scene.  And not just any gratuitous sex scene - an angry, reluctant sex scene.  Neither actor plays it naturally, or even with anything approximating desire.  They both sneer at each other and growl, then start grinding as if they're looking for each other's weak spots.  And unlike other sex scenes, which linger on certain poses while a saxophone plays and the actress moans, New Crime City just hacks together ten seconds of the most awkward moments of the two jabbing each other with arms and pelvises.  It honestly looks like they decided to have some nude wrestling to get their aggression out, and then the scene ends.

...and now Ricks is openly in love with Darla.  That's how romance works, you guys.

Next scene.  Darla takes Ricks to a lab where they can find Wizard (Denis Forest).  Despite being introduced in the last forty minutes of the movie, Wizard is probably the most important character.  He's a junkie who works as one of Ironhead's most trusted officials, basically serving as the official Ironhead Gang Scientist.  Presumably he got the job because he was making meth or something, but along the way he picked up a minor in Biological Warfare and created the MegaVirus.

Ricks holds Wizard at gunpoint and demands the MegaVirus, and/or any exposition he feels like giving.  Wizard tweaks out a bit and tells us that he has some vaccine samples in addition to the virus, and all of them are kept in virtually interchangeable vials on his belt.  I'd like to tell you that the vials have different colors so you can tell them apart, but that's a lie - although some seem to be yellow and some seem to be blue, nobody's ever all that careful about which ones they're using.

Wizard also goes on to say he doesn't care much for Ironhead, so he'd like to join up with Ricks.  And of course Ricks trusts him, because Ricks trusts everybody.  For a tough-as-nails badass, he sure is naive.

Cut to Wizard betraying them to Ironhead, and then cut to Ricks and Darla locked up in cages again.  Ironhead talks big about how he's going to kill the shit out of Ricks and then turn Darla into his sex slave.  But he also decides to give Ricks one opportunity to escape before killing him because this is a movie and why not.

Enter Diablo (Augusto Chocano), a neo-gladiator type, and two kit buggies.  Diablo mounts one and Ricks is forced onto the other.  They're each given lances so they can have a good ol' fashioned joust for the entertainment of Ironhead's gang.  They take a few passes, and then Ricks impales Diablo and hops off the buggy.  Exit Diablo, thanks for stopping by.

Ironhead decides that now's a good time to run away and get back to work on launching that virus at the US, so he drives off with Darla and Wizard in tow.  And then his gang does that stupid thing where they all just kind of stand around wondering what to do while Ricks steals one of their cars.  C'mon, guys, this is the second time Ricks does that in this movie - two different gangs of a couple dozen goons each, and not one of them thinks to shoot at him until after he steals a car?  Ironhead and Juice need to come up with a better screening process.

The movie enters its final chase sequence.  Somewhere along the way, Ironhead boots Wizard out of his car and Ricks picks Wizard up, which doesn't make a lot of sense, but it does create an excuse for Ricks to get his hands on Wizard's belt of vials.  Eventually everybody gets to a rooftop where Ironhead's missile is ready to be fired off.  Somewhere in the ensuing gunfight, Wizard gets shot and killed.  Ironhead takes a moment to brag about how awesome his virus is, then he drinks a vial of what he thinks is the vaccine.  But since Wizard didn't label his shit, it turns out to be the virus, and Ironhead dies horribly.

Ricks takes this time to fuck around with an ankle bracelet he's been wearing this whole movie.  It came up a long time ago, but it wasn't really an important plot point until now.  He figures out suddenly that the anklet contains a miniature nuclear weapon and that Wynorski was going to kill him all along.  There's a brief "is it the blue wire or the red wire" moment, and then Ricks deactivates the bomb.

He radios into Wynorski's office and tells him to meet on that rooftop with the missile.  Wynorski does and there's some posturing on either side about who can be the bigger badass.  Ricks gives Wynorski a vial of vaccine, then fires the missile at the US, anyway, and tells Wynorski he better get to work.  For reasons unknown, Wynorski just leaves instead of killing Ricks or doing anything else he seems to be trying to accomplish.  And then, big surprise, it turns out the vial Wynorski drank was also the virus, so I guess the missile is just going to inoculate everybody instead?  I don't even know anymore, man, there's too many vials and too many double-crosses going on here.

The point is, everyone's dead except for Ricks and Darla.  They go for a pleasant stroll through a hillside cemetery and talk about boning.  The end.

What I Liked / Didn't Like

This is some excellent B-movie-ing.  New Crime City does right what so many other cheap productions do wrong.  It doubles down on the things it can do well and it does its best to play everything else straight, anyway.

I often complain about Fake Bad Movies on this blog, and almost all of my complaints come back to one thing: laziness.  A Fake Bad Movie is one where the crew says, "Fuck it, this is going to look like dog shit, let's not try."  So scenes are hastily shot and edited and it just looks like nobody cares.  I submit New Crime City as evidence of what it looks like when you take the opposite attitude.  Yes, the movie's stupid, and yes, the filmmakers probably knew that - but nobody uses that as an excuse.  Nobody winks at the camera, nobody phones it in.  Just look at Stacy Keach; he was well above this, but he puts on a dumb accent and turns in a serviceable performance all the same.

So what we end up with is an extraordinarily dumb movie that's a ton of fun to watch.  The sets all look fantastic, the props and characters are great, and there's all kinds of nonsense to keep you invested.  It's a movie that throws every idea it could possibly have at you to see what will stick, and thanks to the cast's terrific energy and some excellent pacing, most of them do.

The great thing about a movie like this is that when it succeeds, it works, and when it fails, it still works.  The practical effects and costumes and stunts are all good, so that's a plus.  But when somebody like Sister Maria gives an overblown soliloquy about their sordid past and you can't possibly buy into it?  That's even more of a plus.  Those are the wonderful belly laughs.

I'm tempted to give it a full five-star rating and lump it into the coveted Secret Comedy category, but unfortunately, I don't think it's quite that good.

For one thing, the awkward exposition scenes are just plain awful.  Even in a movie where the nonsense builds up to a greater whole, a lot of that back story just gets distracting and frustrating.  It's almost too weak - Ricks's back story is just the generic "my family died and I'm brooding about it" archetype we've all come to know and love.  In a movie like this, who cares?  Everything else is dialed up to eleven, so why aren't you?

And I'm also not too sold on the ending.  New Crime City does so many ludicrous things on the way to get to that final rooftop confrontation that the denouement is a step down.  I appreciated the hyper-double-triple cross nonsense with all the different vials, but we just had a post-apocalyptic joust and you're following that up with... talking?  What?  This is the time to ramp it up, guy.

Even so, those complaints are pretty minor.  This is an excellent choice for your next bad movie night, whether you're drinking or not.  It's a solid Novice Bad Movie.

How Much Hipster Cred Is It Worth?

At 140 IMDb ratings, this one starts off with a 40 point obscurity bonus.  I'll also grant it a minor 5 point pedigree bonus for being directed by Jonathan Winfrey, the guy at the helm of the first couple Black Scorpion movies.

But beyond those bonuses - which, frankly, are kind of boring to tally up whenever I start talking about cred - New Crime City is a good choice for hipsters.  Hell, you can start with the title.  It has two names, and they decided to just smush them together.  You could call is "Los Angeles 2020: New Crime City" and it would mean the exact same thing.  Plus, it makes reference to 2020 as though that's some far off year and not just a scant 26 years from when production started.  So, I'm giving it 15 hipster cred for the title alone.

And then you have to consider the plot, which is a blatant Escape from New York rip-off.  By itself that's not necessarily worth any cred - but look at the layers here.  It's a rip-off of a movie that was essentially remade by its sequel, Escape from LA, which came out in 1996 - two years after New Crime City.  So, it would be more accurate to say it's a rip-off of the sequel, except it predated it, which means you can be totally snotty and go, "Hmm, remaking Escape from New York in Los Angeles?  I liked it better when New Crime City did it."  That's a decent amount of cred... but then you have to factor in Stacy Keach, who essentially plays the exact same role in both New Crime City and Escape from LA.  That's almost scientifically designed for hipsters.  The dual-punch of plot and casting is worth easily another 10 cred.

I'll round it all off with a maximum recommendation bonus of 30 points, which means New Crime City rockets off to a staggering 100 hipster cred out of a possible 100.

Where You Can Watch

Although I can't find it on Amazon, New Crime City was released on DVD at some point because I rented a copy from Netflix.  It also looks like it's been available to stream there at some point in the past, so maybe check in now and again to see if they have it in their catalog again.