The brawling and cheesy Escape Plan is pure escapist fun with a twist.
Considering the overwhelming status Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone commanded in the 1980's, it's amazing that no one had the foresight to pair these two up in a film prior to 2010's The Expendables. Though extremely limited, their one-scene-stage-sharing gave us tantalizing hints to what a full-on experience could be. Sadly, a lot's happened since 1982 when Conan The Destroyer and First Blood were released, with both actors seeing their popularity and bankability wane in the face of better actors in better vehicles. This week's release of Escape Plan finally brings us our wish, with an enjoyable and brawling effort that never tries to be more than what it is.
Prison star Ray Breslin (Stallone) has literally written the book on escapes. As the film opens, we see him break out of yet another one in Colorado, but not before performing some CGI-assisted intel and riding a firetruck out of the facility. His job - to identify key faults in today's penitentiaries - has brought fortune and respectability to his team, which includes the nervous finance man (Vincent D’Onofrio), the computer hacker (50-cent), and his oft-squeeze Abigail (Amy Ryan). Soon, Breslin is paid to break out of a new type of prison: privately-funded and free from International human rights codes. Unfortunately, he soon becomes a real-life prisoner, courtesy of a deep betrayal and now under the scrutiny of Warden Hobbes (Jim Caviezel), who's read Breslin's book and practices his craft with cool and deliberate precision. No prison is inescapable, but Breslin will need help from the burly fellow inmate Emil Rottmayer (Schwarzenegger) if he's going to escape for real. Rottmayer and Breslin form a fast association, while Hobbes violently pressures the two in an effort to break them. Faced with few options, the two must survive the daily beatings while enlisting unlikely allies if their escape plan intends on working.
Director Mikael Hafstrom has never made deeply personal films before, so why start here? And while not a stellar director, he does round out the cast with several good actors, including D’Onofrio as Breslin's and Caviezel, whose icy performance is thoroughly entertaining. Hobbes' obsessive personality and absolutely cut-throat approach to breaking Breslin makes him a stand out among the dearth of villains we've been been forced to endure this year. How the Person of Interest star isn't in more films is beyond me, as he was our personal choice to play the caped crusader in the new Superman-Batman film. The same could be said for enigmatic D'Onofrio, and it's hoped that these two find their way into quality film roles before Stallone and Schwarzenegger call again.
But make no mistake: the action breaks no new ground, no goon seems able to shoot our heroes, and the sight of Schwarzenegger going Commando-style with a helicopter gun is done with all the slo-mo style of our post-Matrix era. If one removes any expectations short of theater etiquette and yummy-tasting popcorn, Escape Plan will be escapist fun that reminds us the 1980's action hero and all the random lapses in logic that made those films so appealing. This one has slightly more going for it with the twisty plot courtesy of Writers Miles Chapman and Arnell Jesko, who also throw in some terrific one liners. Honestly, I haven't seen Schwarzenegger this alive in years, as he finally gets to sport his native German; Stallone is his usual mumbling self, but when paired up, these two actually have great on-screen presence. Sure, the casting of 50-cent is a joke and Neill as a sympathetic doctor doesn't get enough screen time, but D’Onofrio and Caveizel more than make up for that with wonderfully slimy performances.
The fun and likable Escape Plan doesn't pretend to be anything more than cheesy, brawling, and somewhat unsophisticated. And it works. Schwarzenegger and Stallone make a great team, even if their antics border on sexagenarian ridiculousness. Caviezel is a solid and enjoyable bad guy who should be in more films, and the story contains enough interesting twists hatched at the right times to wipe away any dust that's accumulated on our elder statesmen. And while mass audiences probably won't flock to see it, Escape Plan's big guns/big laughs M.O. is the best we've seen all year from these two. It's the most we could ask from a film that we tried desperately to hate. Escape Plan is rated R for violence and language throughout and has a runtime of 115 minutes.
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