If this were twenty years ago, Escape Plan would be pretty awesome. Oh wait, no it wouldn't, because then audiences would be expecting the explosive big guns and bigger pecs action a film starring Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger should provide. Even at an advanced stage of their careers (and physical shape), they can still open a cinematic can of whoop ass in The Expendables, and individually they've done a pretty good job of reliving their youthful glory days. But Escape Plan, which sees them sharing top billing for the first time ever, is a creaky and nonsensical prison drama that emphasizes their brains over brawn. Who in the world wants to watch that?
Stallone is really the lead guy here as Ray Breslin, a security expert and modern day Houdini whose job is to go undercover in maximum security prisons, then break out to expose their flaws. Yeah, it's all sorts of stupid, and the suggestion that he's some sort of genius is less than convincing. His mental acumen is thrown further into question when he's approached by a shady CIA liaison who offers $5M for him to break into an off-the-books facility full of the world's worst criminals. Breslin's team, which consists of the lovely Amy Ryan and 50 Cent (as a menacing tech geek!) are skeptical, as anybody with half a brain should be. Vincent D'Oonfrio plays Breslin's twitchy boss, who sees a quick pay day and pushes him to take it. Although it's clearly a dangerous set up, Breslin's ego leads to him taking the job, and it isn't long before he's kidnapped and shipped off to a prison he doesn't recognize. Oops. Probably should have put that intellect to better use, Hoss.
Waking up in a glass cell like something out of Silence of the Lambs, Breslin soon comes to realize that he's actually a prisoner with no easy way out. For a facility that's supposed to be state of the art, boasting more than $1B of impenetrable security, it barely reaches above the level of HBO's Oz. But what's perhaps most hilarious is a suggestion that the facility, a blatant human rights violation if there ever was one, was designed as a back-up because the CIA had ended extraordinary rendition. Oh yeah? That email must be in my spam folder. This isn't a smart enough movie to really go down that road, nor its thin allusions to our country's reliance on for-profit prisons. There are documentaries for that stuff, guys. Somebody throw a grenade or something.
In his first legit acting role since he pretended to govern California, Schwarzenegger is the only one who seems to notice what a piece of schlock this movie actually is. He plays Emil Rottmeyer, a convict Yoda who agrees to help Breslin mount a prison break. In the process he becomes the target of a dainty/maniacal prison warden played by Jim Caviezel. We know he's crazy because he collects butterflies and carries a handkerchief, sure signs of mental instability.
Directed by Mikael Hafstron, the film has all the energy of a bloated cadaver, and stinks just as bad. There was a time when Hafstrom was a director on the rise, helming the effective hotel thriller 1408, but lately his films have been a total snore. His bland direction hamstrings what should be entertaining exchanges between Stallone and Schwarzenegger, but instead most of their early encounters prove underwhelming. Even during the one time they come to blows, Hafstrom shoots it in such a haphazard way that it's a little too obvious neither man is really there and are probably down the street having lunch. Not even Hafstrom is able to completely nullify the action heroes' easy chemistry, though, and once we start getting them in the same frame later on the film begins to improve somewhat.
Stallone isn't what one would call the most emotive of actors, but he's practically comatose as Breslin, and Hafstrom's constant close-ups on his waxy face doesn't help. Schwarzenegger is better, and it's good to see him not only acting his age, but putting his considerable size (he's still massive) to good use in presenting an air of authority. It would have been interesting to see how the results would have been if the roles were reversed, as they were in the film's earliest stages of development. Other than Schwarzenegger, the only one having any fun is Caviezel, who years after The Passion of the Christ, gets more religious puns than any actor should be allowed. Either the role was written for him or Bill Maher turned it down.
Logic is repeatedly thrown out the window as the two inmates plot their escape, which doesn't seem any more difficult than what Breslin experienced before. For some reason the warden doesn't seem to wonder why the two biggest troublemakers keep whispering and plotting stuff. Isn't it kinda obvious? And yet the story is needlessly complicated, overstuffed with filler material to pad out a lagging two-hour runtime. Ryan and 50 Cent's characters are pointless, and a subplot involving a mysterious criminal with a bounty on his head seems tacked on. Worse is the unfortunate Sam Neill as a prison doctor suffering from an ethical dilemma, and literally has to look up the Hippocratic Oath as a reminder. By the time Hafstrom remembers who his stars are and begins cranking up the action it's far too late. Any chance we get to see Stallone and Schwarzenegger should be nothing less than memorable, even in a terrible movie, but Escape Plan is an utterly forgettable entry on both actors' resumes.