Friday, June 20, 2014

Escape Plan

Directed by Mikael Hafstrom.
2013. Rated R, 115 minutes.
Sylvester Stallone
Arnold Schwarzenegger
Jim Caviezel
Faran Tahir
Vincent D'Onofrio
Amy Ryan
Vinnie Jones
Sam Neill
Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson
Caitriona Balfe

We meet Ray Breslin (Stallone) just in time to see him escape from a maximum security prison. Then we find out that this is his job. He runs a company that literally puts max security institutions to the test. The people who run these places hire him to go inside undercover as a prisoner and try to break out. He always does. It's made him a legend in "the industry." Yeah, apparently there is an industry and he is a legend in it. Um, yeah. It's an industry built on a pretty poor business model, if you ask me. Our boy Ray has three other employees, but none of them ever go inside even though jobs take months, maybe even a year to complete. On top of that, its dependent of the institutions that hire him, presumably all part of the public sector, having to come up with a couple million bucks to pay him. Since this is a movie, I suppose we have to let all that slide. Anyhoo, the CIA soon comes calling with an extra special job for our hero. They want him to break out of a place that's not only maximum security, but so "top secret" that they won't even tell him where it is. The inmates there are so dangerous none of them has been afforded due process. Various governments from around the world just snatched them off the streets and shipped them here. These guys are not allowed any contact with the outside world whatsoever. Ray will be treated accordingly.

As action flick set-ups go, this one is totally ludicrous, but interesting. Once we hear what this job entails, our wheels immediately start turning. Where could they be taking him? How is his team going to help him? Lastly, with such bad guys around, will Ray even survive long enough to try an escape? Okay, we know the answer to that last one. Still, we ask the question. That's good. It helps us get engaged in the movie. This isn't The Godfather, or anything, but we're interested. It helps tremendously that throughout the movie, the story manages to maintain a sense of impossibility to the task at hand. We really do feel for our hero when he finds out where he is.

Another thing that helps keep us entertained is Sly's larger than life co-star, Arnold Schwarzenegger. While never known as a great thespian, Arnie's been a movie star for most of my life. For those of us who grew up during the 80s and 90s, having him in a movie with Stallone is something we clamored for, but never thought we would actually see. That it comes all these years later adds to the film's charm. Back then, the debate among action lovin' boys was over which was better. If you argued in Schwarzenegger's favor, you certainly weren't celebrating his acting skills. So, what is it about him that made him such a huge star? There were plenty of other big brawny dudes out there saving the world. What sets him apart is his amazing screen presence. It is on full display in Escape Plan. He simply dominates the screen, no matter who else is on it, Stallone included. He's also completely comfortable in his own skin, nowadays, which has made him a better actor. He says everything with a hint of humor and understands that's how it should be. He delivers one of those bound to be underappreciated performances. I really enjoyed him here, but I know people will dismiss his work because of who he is.

As the movie goes on, however, it gets mired in action flick cliches. Of course, there's an evil warden, rival factions, and money-grubbin' turncoats. All of them go through pretty standard storylines. There is alos the predictable hand wringing of Sly's cohorts as they work feverishly from the outside to help their boss. By working feverishly, I mean verbally accosting the one person we know is guilty, over and over again. This portion of film includes a bland performance by Amy Ryan and a poor one from 50 Cent. What's worse is that as clear as it is what's going on just based on the events occurring, someone will always be along to explain it to you. Additionally, there's the problem of trying to make a bunch of guys labeled as the most dangerous in the world into a lovable band of misfits. We're told repeatedly how bad these people were in the outside world, therefore, it's hard to build up much sympathy for them.

Overall, Escape Plan is fun as it plucks along. The action, while not exceptionally frequent, works. Among the treats is the long awaited fight scene between Arnie and Sly. It's at least twenty-five years late, but I'll take it. Kudos to Stallone, by the way, for looking less like a botox monster than he has recently. He performs exactly like we'd expect so no surprises, there. The rest of the cast? A number of the performances are hammy, but work within the framework of the movie. Plus, Schwarzenegger is a blast to watch. On the downside, it wastes the good will it builds early in the picture by failing to escape genre restrictions.

MY SCORE: 5.5/10


  1. You'd expect a movie with Sly and Arnie to be as dumb as possible, and that's why I had fun with it. Didn't expect much else from them, to be honest. Good review Dell.

    1. Yup. Definitely couldn't go in expecting Citizen Kane.