No, 2019: AFTER THE FALL OF NEW YORK does not live up to that poster. But, then again, what possibly could? But it’s hardly a bait-and-switch, as Sergio Martino’s transparent “tribute” to ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK (with smatterings of MAD MAX) does, indeed, include most of the elements on display, including oddly-shaped laser guns and knife-wielding monkey men. We’ll just consider these visuals to be a bit of playful exaggeration.
BOOM! WHOA! Yeah, this is, as you might have guessed, one of a number of Italian post-apocalyptic rip-offs that peppered cinemas in the early 1980s, though this one is notable for being more rip-off-y than usual, as the plot involves a shockingly Snake Plissken-esque anti-hero being forced into a walled off New York City (which is controlled by roving gangs), in order to track down the last fertile female on earth. He’s accompanied by the claw-armed Bronx (who knows the layout of the city) and the muscle-bound Ratchet (who *totally* isn’t a robot), and has to fight his way through baddies, mannequins, little people, and some mutated ape-men.
Yeah, it’s fuckin’ crazy. And it’s also — in classic Italian exploitation style — surprisingly violent! I mean, it’s not a total gorefest, but there are plenty of stabbings, decapitations and eye-pluckings. And while the visuals are decidedly cheap looking, there’s also a clear effort to keep things colorful and interesting, which is not surprising since director Sergio Martino cut his teeth on stylish gialli, like ALL THE COLORS OF THE DARK and THE CASE OF THE SCORPION’S TAIL. Also, Martino — along with cinematographer Giancarlo Ferrando — was responsible for the great TORSO. Go watch that right now, and then come back to the review.
Now, a major thing that 2019 is missing is Kurt Russell, and while star Michael Sopkiw is plenty pretty, he’s no Snake Plissken/Jack Burton/R.J. Macready. For one thing, his character is named Parsifal, which is just terrible. Even if you can figure out how to pronounce it, it comes out like “Percival”, which it just a lame, lame name. Even worse, while they play with the idea of making him an anti-hero, for most of the movie he’s a true-blue good guy. He rescues a slave girl, plays well with others, and generally only murders in self-defense. They didn’t even give the guy an eye-patch! Thankfully, the synth-heavy soundtrack is pretty damn good, and when it’s not spinning its wheels in the sewers, the whole production moves along at a decent clip.
But we have to talk about the bad-guys. For the first quarter of the film, they are just a sort of faceless gang of marauders who are — like, sigh, Parsifal — trying to track down the last fertile lady. At one point, the whole crew end up getting captured and get brought to the baddies’ base, and this part is great; full of BATTLESTAR GALACTICA-esque sets, a terrific bald villain and his bad-ass female subordinate. But this never really goes anywhere, and they mostly vanish from the film at the halfway point. It’s a shame, as it’s here where the film shows some sparks of life that are really missing from the remainder. I mean, where would ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK be without The Duke of New York, A–Number–1, the Big Man?
2019: AFTER THE FALL OF NEW YORK is significantly more enjoyable than most of these Italian post-nuke riffs, and while it’s a pale imitation, at least it’s a speedy, violent and goofy imitation. If his film wasn’t so handcuffed to its source, Martino may have been able to pull out something more transcendent, but what’s here still has enough odd asides and strange twists to satisfy fans of international schlock. Sadly, these cheap-o apocalyptic wonders were one of the last gasps for the Italian exploitation industry. Hopefully MAD MAX: FURY ROAD will spur a whole new generation of counterfeits.