To be honest I almost didn’t see this, from the trailers it looked like a rental, and after the abysmal The Last Stand I wasn’t excited about another questionable movie with Arnold Schwarzenegger in it. Yet I’m glad I let myself get dragged into seeing this because to my delight I found a lot more to Escape Plan than I’d expected.
Sylvester Stallone stars as Ray Breslin, a man who breaks out of maximum security prisons for a living so their deficiencies can be fixed. His latest assignment a privately owned, off the record facility called the Tomb where the world’s worst of the worst are disappeared to. When Ray is double-crossed and set up for a permanent stay he must put his talents to the test and escape a supposedly inescapable prison that makes a stay at Guantanamo Bay look like a honeymoon at the Bellagio. Aiding him is Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Rottmayer, a tough resourceful inmate, and watching over the facility is the cruel warden played by Jim Caviezel, designer of the Tomb and a man who has literally read the book Ray wrote on prison security (he’s got a copy on his desk.)
Escape Plan isn’t interested in tackling weighty subjects like incarceration in the United States or the legally and morally questionable extrajudicial prison systems where some secretly wind up. There are explosions, shootouts, and slugfests in this film. Yet they don’t dominate the entirety of the movie so this isn’t exactly the typical rollercoaster action vehicle you’d expect from either of these actors. For most of its 115 minutes it’s more of a thriller with an elaborate escape plan and twists and turns in the plot. Breslin must outwit the system and its architect Warden Hobbes, probing and observing to find the Tomb’s vulnerabilities.
At times it’s too convenient and our villains deaf, dumb, blind, and stupid when required. For example, early in his stay at the Tomb we see Breslin with Rottmayer casually walking near a guard, openly talking about an escape plan. Breslin and Rottmayer are easily the two most dangerous inmates but no one sweats them being inseparable until two-thirds of the way into the movie. Things like these strain your suspension of disbelief, but its never actually broken so the attempts at escape keep you interested and excited over the course of the movie. Okay… maybe it’s kind of broken when Stallone’s character MacGyvers a sextant out of random trash and is able to more or less figure out exactly where he is from the latitude and climate during that time of year… but it’s mostly never broken!
The performances are solid. Stallone puts in a strong showing with his usual acting, I think it will just come down to whether or not you like what Sly’s built his career on. Jim Caviezel is delightfully evil as Warden Hobbes. In The Last Stand Arnold Schwarzenegger was tired and dull just like that movie, making me question why he bothered unretiring. However, with this film I had to eat a healthy plate of crow and I did it with a big grin. Arnold dominates as the funny and tough Rottmayer with undeniable screen presence and charisma, reminding you there’s a reason he was one of the world’s biggest stars in his prime. He supplies plenty of laughs and keeps the film from taking itself too seriously.
Considering each of Sly’s and Arnie’s last movies bombed, Escape Plan likely won’t be in theaters for very long. This isn’t necessarily the special-effects heavy action extravaganza that benefits from a theater-going experience, but if you like Stallone or Schwarzenegger, heck even if you just want to see a decent flick, think twice before passing this up. It’s true that for the box office this pairing would’ve been better thirty years ago, but it’s still great to see these two legends have lengthy screentime together. Not because of any sense of novelty, but because they have great chemistry and play off each other well in a genuinely good movie that’s a little different from their usual fare.