A film review by Craig J. Koban October 25, 2013

ESCAPE PLAN jjj
 

2013, R, 115 mins.

 

Sylvester Stallone as Ray Breslin  /  Arnold Schwarzenegger as Swan  /  Vinnie Jones as Drake  /  50 Cent as Hush  /  Matt Gerald as Roag  /  Christian Stokes as Babcock  /  Jim Caviezel as Willard Hobbes  /  Vincent D'Onofrio as Lester Clark  /  Sam Neill as Dr. Emil Kaikev

Directed by Mikael Håfström  /  Written by Miles Chapman

There’s a sequence late in ESCAPE PLAN that - gosh darn it! -  literally made me feel like I was whisked back to a movie theatre in the late 1980’s.  

The scene in question features a military helicopter, an insanely large and heavy machine gun, and Arnold Schwarzenegger ripping the weapon off of its mount, after which he engages in a deliciously over-the-top murder spree of nefarious bad guys while crying out, “Have a lovely day, assholes!”  Au-nald may be approaching ripe retirement home age, but during this ridiculously rousing moment in ESCAPE PLAN – all done in fetishistic slow-motion – an inescapable nostalgia washed over me; it was like I was watching COMMANDO for the first time ever. 

ESCAPE PLAN, on paper, has a premise that will leave fans of schlocktastic and gleefully over-the-top 1980’s action flicks salivating: A prison break flick with Schwarzenegger and, yes, Sylvester Stallone, both of whom were arguably the greatest and most iconic action film stars of the Reagan-era.  Obviously, this new film does not represent the first time that the Terminator and Rambo have occupied the same space on the silver screen (see EXPENDABLES 1 and 2), but those previous films featuring them were but mild, fleeting teases compared to what ESCAPE PLAN offers up.  This is a film where these two muscle-bound pillars of machismo are the main leads, and part of the insatiable pleasure of watching it is witnessing these two old pros go at each other mano-a-mano.  For the most part, it all but alleviates the sins of ESCAPE PLANS’ preposterous narrative. 

Stallone plays Ray Breslin, one of the foremost security experts in the world.  However, he’s no ordinary security expert: He actually allows himself to voluntarily be incarcerated in the world’s most secure prisons so that he can escape from them and then proceed to let the higher ups of the facilities know what their weak spots are.  In the film’s relatively involving and kind of ingenious opening, we see Breslin outfox and out-maneuver guards and security at a Colorado penitentiary.  When he’s out he hooks back up with his security firm’s partner (Vincent D’Onofrio) who gives Breslin his next assignment, but this time the whereabouts of the prison are unknown, seeing as it’s a special Black-Ops facility where only the worst of humanity’s criminal element are locked up in.  Even though this assignment sounds enormously risky, Breslin takes it for the massive potential payday. 

 

 

Breslin, as crazy as it sounds, then allows himself to be abducted, blindfolded, and sent to the high tech and state-of-the-art prison, dubbed “The Tomb.”  When he arrives there he meets the facility’s warden (an enjoyably creepy and sinister Jim Caviezel), and it appears from the get-go that Breslin will be all-alone on his clandestine mission to escape.  Eventually, he meets Rottmayer (Schwarzenegger), a political prisoner that is keeping secrets from the warden that he so desperately wants.  Realizing that the prison is an ultra-corrupt joint, Breslin decides that he must not only escape from it (which initially seems impossible), but that he will inevitably require Rottmayer's aid to make it happen.  After a few cold initial meetings, the pair decides that it would be in their mutual best interests to team-up, expose the warden for who he is, and get out of the Tomb alive and in one piece. 

If one allows themselves to think too hard about the plot of ESCAPE PLAN and the particulars of Breslin and Rottmayer’s escape plan within it, then the film’s logic certainly gets crushed by even modest scrutiny.  It becomes, well, almost unintentionally laughable the more the film progresses and sometimes the script takes itself a bit too seriously.  Alas – and like the finest examples of testosterone-laced and wickedly mindless 80’s action cinema – ESCAPE PLAN exists as an engine to facilitate our needs to see the monosyllabic Stallone and the wild-eyed Schwarzenegger appear on screen and exchange self-aware one-liners (and punches!).   The two could actually not be anymore different as performers: Stallone is gruff and monotone, whereas Schwarzenegger is more charmingly outgoing as an actor and screen presence.  Yet, they work as highly effective foils to each other and their camaraderie on-screen is unmistakable.  It’s simply a natural geektastic high witnessing these titans play in scenes together.  

If I had to pick one character that I naturally gravitated towards then it would certainly be Schwarzenegger’s Rottmayer (who actually gets second billing in the film in a supporting role; we don’t see him in the story for the first 30 minutes).  The actor clearly seems to be playfully enjoying his time on the film, and when he’s not flexing his muscles and eradicating his enemies, Schwarzenegger manages to infuse some light-weight comedy into the proceedings, especially with some of his trademark verbal zingers (“You hit like a vegetarian,” he joyfully lashes out at Breslin after he punches him during a staged fight).  There’s one scene that’s the film’s high point, during which Rottmayer purposely allows himself to be locked away in a tiny solitary confinement cell (to serve as a distraction for Breslin).  While inside, Rottmayer stages an anxiety attack while blaring out crazed and demented monologues…in German!  It’s both a hysterical and unnervingly effective moment; I’m not sure that I’ve witnessed Schwarzenegger be more eerily convincing in a scene before. 

I don’t want to comment on the specifics regarding the actual escape plan, other than to say that it’s simultaneously ingenious and wholeheartedly unbelievable, all of which involves instances of MacGuyver-like resourcefulness by Breslin that are more head-scratchingly baffling than inspiringly inventive.  I think that if the film contained any actors other than Stallone and Schwarzenegger then the holes in the plot and its more nagging implausibilities would be too much to digest.  Alas, I found myself so elated with every waking moment featuring these two action heavyweights that I cared less and less about the film’s descent into pure silliness.  ESCAPE PLAN is, for lack of a better descriptor, stupid, but it’s stupid fun and a guilty pleasure all the same.  Like junk food, the film is momentarily tasty and goes down easily. 

If anything, though, watching this film made me oddly wistful.  It elicited in me thoughts of all of the limitless possibilities of seeing Sly and Au-nald appearing in a film together, say, 25 years ago and when they were at the zenith of the action god-like statures.  That would have been a sight to see, indeed.  Unavoidably, watching these borderline geriatric-aged stars finally appearing in a film together may have come a few decades too late.  Well, better late than never, as I’ll take what ESCAPE PLAN has offered up…as will most, I surmise, that reveled in the brainless, no-nonsense extremes of 80’s shoot-em-up pictures.  

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