The very conceit of a muscular genius who breaks out of prisons for a handsome living seems wildly farfetched. Partner him with another burly brainiac and toss them into a virtually inescapable facility and you have “Escape Plan.” Yet while the premise is certainly preposterous, as are the surmounting obstacles obstructing the detainees’ freedom, the fun is impressively consistent. Action giants Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger fill the screen with the expected fistfights, shootouts, and stern-faced machismo, but are also afforded several clever moments of intricate plotting for their daring getaways. Perhaps it’s too much to believe an ex-lawyer could be seasoned in not only law, but also computer programming, medicine, chemistry, nautical tools, and hand-to-hand combat, but if one can look past such diverse proficiencies, “Escape Plan” rarely slows down.
Ray Breslin (Sylvester Stallone) has a very unique set of skills. Able to find the flaws in any prison facility, Breslin inserts himself into correctional institutions and then breaks out to demonstrate their weaknesses. When a government agent offers Breslin double his normal fee (a staggering $5 million) to test a non-sanctioned experimental prison, his partners Abigail (Amy Ryan) and Hush (Curtis Jackson) urge him to decline - but the confident escape artist is intrigued by the challenge. Once there, Breslin realizes he’s been set up and discovers he’s trapped in a steel labyrinth designed specifically against his techniques of escape. Now, with no help from the outside and a sadistic warden (Jim Caviezel) monitoring his every move, Breslin must team up with cunning inmate Rottmayer (Arnold Schwarzenegger) to plan the biggest prison break of his career – to save his life.
With this plot and cast, “Escape Plan” is what “The Expendables” should have been. In many ways, it’s reminiscent of guilty pleasure shoot-‘em-up extravaganzas from the ‘90s (with numerous examples starring Stallone and Schwarzenegger individually). But it’s not enough simply to place two of the biggest action stars of yesteryear together onscreen – and with the extensive character development and detailed premise, this hard-edged actioner recognizes the necessity of supplemental theatrical constitution. Slow-motion, heavy artillery, physical violence, a welcomingly age-appropriate love interest, an inordinately felonious villain, and thuggish henchmen further adorn what would have been a run-of-the-mill thriller. Somewhere amidst all of the over-the-top idiosyncrasies and sardonic dialogue, an undeniable bit of entertainment arises, managing intermittently to outpace the imperfections of this take on “The Count of Monte Cristo” (or harbinger of the upcoming “Oldboy” remake).
The title sequence abruptly cuts off the opening scene, as if the editors had to work with grossly insufficient footage. The brilliancy of Breslin’s initial breakout is hampered by a replaying of the entire ordeal, adding in footage like the step-by-step spoiling of a magic trick. And Breslin accepts the new job without any real hesitation, as if scripting believable discord would have slowed down the narrative too much. And yet, with the inclusion of intentional humor (and plenty of unintentional tackiness), amusing camaraderie, unexpected peril, and the bracing revelation that the prison break mastermind depends not only on studying layouts and routines, but also requires inside and outside help, “Escape Plan” holds its own as a sturdy example of silly but cool filmmaking. Refreshingly, he also always has a “Plan B” that can be utilized when procedures become predictable.
- The Massie Twins (GoneWithTheTwins.com)