Taken as a straightforward action movie, Escape Plan is something that never should’ve been more than a direct-to-DVD feature.
In Escape Plan, Sylvester Stallone plays Ray Breslin, a man who specializes in a very specific talent: he infiltrates and then escapes from the nation’s most notorious prisons, in order to point out flaws in security. One day, Ray and his team are approached by a young CIA agent for a new type of job: breaking out of one the government’s shadow prisons, a place that doesn’t officially exist, used to house the worst threats to peace and order in the free world.
As soon as Ray arrives in the care of the fascistic warden Hobbes (Jim Caviezel), he knows that something has gone terribly wrong. No one seems aware of his identity, or his mission, leaving him stranded amongst the worst inmates on the planet. Needing help in order to do what he does best, Ray befriends cell block heavyweight Rottmayer (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and brings him into the escape plan. But getting out of the world’s most secure prison proves to be a task requiring a lot of brains, brawn and more than a few bullets.
Carried by the momentum of a Schwarzenegger/Stallone team-up, Escape Plan is nothing less than a shoddy, silly, testosterone-fueled action film throwback, which teeters between clever self parody and an embarrassingly bad attempt to create an actual action blockbuster, using two lions of the genre who are well past their prime. Whatever the intention, the final result (herby dubbed “Grumpy Old Men With Guns”) is definitely something that is so bad it’s fun – which is the only reason it’s not a total failure.
Directed by Swedish helmer Mikael Håfström (1408), Escape Plan looks like someone’s home movie fan-film, with a third act that would be hard to distinguish from one of The Asylum’s mockumentary flicks. Most of the film is shot in bewildering close-up frames of the actors’ faces, with very little sense of environment or space orientation. Given that the body of the movie is mostly dialogue between Stallone and Schwarzenegger, Håfström’s style in shooting keeps us pressed so close to the aging action stars we can practically smell their breath and count their respective wrinkles. Whenever Håfström tries to open up into movement, the shot choices and sequences become even more bizarre and disorienting; in general, very poor work behind the camera.
Those expecting at least a decent action quotient may want to realign their expectations, because there’s very little actual action in the film. The movie could fairly be described as a heist-thriller – only with the “crooks” trying to “heist” themselves out of prison – ergo, most of the film involves talking and scheming rather than shootouts or fisticuffs. The price of admission is really paid to see Stallone and Schwarzenegger in a bunch of winking meta-minded riffs on their respective personas, in between busting each others’ chops. It’d almost be the same if the two actors sat on a stage in front of a crowd joking with each other for an hour and a half – but hey, there’s sort of a movie here, too.
I say “sort of” because the script by Jason Keller (Mirror, Mirror) and Miles Chapman (Road House 2) feels like half a skeleton of a story filled in with whatever meat and muscle Stallone and Schwarzenegger threw at it in their many, many wisecrack exchanges. We’re talking about a film that fell out of the cinema tree, crashed to the ground, and managed to hit every branch of action movie cliches on the way down. The macho bravado, obvious twists, barrage of bullets that never seem to hit the hero, the awful dialogue – and yes, those iconic cheesy one-liners – it’s all there, just the way you found it in the ’80s/’90s eras. Taken as a straightforward action movie, Escape Plan is something that never should’ve been more than a direct-to-DVD feature; as a kitschy satire of Schwarzenegger and Stallone’s action man personas, it may just be unintentional genius.
Out of the lead pair, Schwarzenegger steals the show, as he clearly knows to have tongue-and-cheek fun with the material. Escape Plan plays in a very episodic sequence of challenges and obstacles related to the… er, escape plan, and the “episodes” with Rottmayer almost always result in some good humor. Even when he picks up a huge gun and does that trademark slow-mo turn and scowl, Schwarzenegger seems to be more self-deprecating comedian than faded star trying to reclaim glory. Stallone, on the other hand, still seems think this is all serious and relevant work being done, which makes his attempts at gravitas just as humorous as Schwarzenegger’s winking antics – only humorous in the ‘laughing at him’ as opposed to ‘with him’ kind of way.
The supporting cast is filled with big names and recognizable faces, all them oddly out of place and turning in some bizarre performances. Jim Caviezel (Person of Interest) gives one of the more weirder villain performances I’ve seen in awhile (effeminate sociopath warden, anyone?); at one point Stallone’s character describes a foul-mouthed 50 Cent’s character as a “techno thug” (umm…. okay); Amy Ryan (The Wire) plays a sort of love interest the movie kind of forgets about; Sam Neill (Jurassic Park), Vincent D’Onofrio (Law & Order: CI), Vinnie Jones (Snatch), Faran Tahir (Elysium) – you’ll recognize pretty much every character you meet, and will likely wonder (as I did) how they ended up in this movie at all, giving the strange performance they did.
In the end, Escape Plan feels like one of those films that was made to be the next film immortalized as a drinking game with a cult following. Take a drink anytime that A) Someone says a line you’ve heard in EVERY action movie, B) When there’s a callback to a famous Stallone/Schwarzenegger flick, or C) Whenever the director puts the camera so close to an actor’s face you can see his/her nose hairs. Follow those three rules (if you choose to see this film) and you’ll be drunk in no time.
Escape Plan is now playing in theaters. It is 116 minutes long and is Rated R for violence and language throughout.
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