Mark Reviews Movies

Escape Plan

ESCAPE PLAN

3 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Mikael Håfström

Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jim Caviezel, Faran Tahir, Amy Ryan, Sam Neill, Vincent D'Onofrio, Vinnie Jones, Matt Gerald, Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson

MPAA Rating: R (for violence and language throughout)

Running Time: 1:56

Release Date: 10/18/13


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Review by Mark Dujsik | October 18, 2013

Escape Plan is not the first time Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger have appeared together on screen, but it is the first time they headline a movie together. This fact is trivia, only important because both actors were titans of a genre during the 1980s and '90s, but it's trivia that easily could have been exploited. Why should the movie or anyone involved in it put any effort into a vehicle for a casting gimmick?

That would be the question a lazy or cynical enterprise would ask, and the answer would be, "That's a good point." Escape Plan, though, is not a lazy or cynical movie. The film has a clever premise and, until a predictably generic climax, follows through on it with a neat if faulty logic. Once the two stars have their first, intentionally awkward meeting, it's evident that the pairing of Stallone and Schwarzenegger is not just a cheap bit of stunt casting.

The two are essentially playing to type, but these aren't phoned-in performances. Schwarzenegger seems to have a better sense of humor about the whole affair. Maybe Stallone is having a laugh beneath his characteristically stony face, or maybe he's devoted to playing the straight man to Schwarzenegger's more jovial tone.

There's a clear dynamic between the two characters that prevents either from becoming stagnant, and the screenplay by Miles Chapman and Arnell Jesko keeps escalating the obstacles of the scenario until the only possible way around them is through some suspicious decisions on the part of a few characters. At least they have the good sense to present some rationale, no matter how unlikely, for these convenient choices.

Stallone plays Ray Breslin, a prison-break expert who literally wrote the book on how to prevent prison breaks. Prisons hire him to insert himself into the general population of maximum security facilities throughout the country, and he tries to find their weak spots. The film opens, of course, with a display of his skill, which relies on knowledge of psychology (routines and habits) and technology (keypads and surveillance cameras), perfect timing (counting the seconds of a cigarette break), and—unsaid though it may be—above all else, pure luck (just about everything else).

The company Breslin works for is offered a government contract to test the integrity of its top-secret prison for people that no other country wants and are best "disappeared." His partner/flirtation pal Abigail (Amy Ryan) the company's technology expert Hush (Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson) are skeptical, but his boss (Vincent D'Onofrio) doesn't want to pass up a multimillion-dollar payday. Neither does Breslin.

When it's time for the job to start, he's subdued on the street and transported via helicopter (witnessing another inmate stabbed and thrown out the door, just to emphasize that these guys are serious) to a massive warehouse of a prison called "the Tomb," where tiers of glass cells stand about 20 feet off the ground with around-the-clock guards and cameras monitoring everything. Breslin, realizing he's in over his head, tries to get out of the job, but his escape code doesn't work. On top of it all, the warden Hobbes (Jim Caviezel) is a big fan of Breslin's work and has used his book to design the prison and its security measures.

There is all of this, and Schwarzenegger has yet to show his face. It's good stuff—an imposing location, a theoretically formidable foe, and a seemingly impossible puzzle for even an expert puzzle-solver to crack. Aside from a few scenes that follow his co-workers trying to determine where he is and how they can help him (complete with an clandestine villain in their midst, whose identity is as obvious from the start of the plot as his/her motives are unclear), the film stays with Breslin and his attempts to find a weakness in Hobbes' design.

Schwarzenegger arrives as Emil Rottmayer, who is in the employ of another security expert and is in the Tomb so that Hobbes can coerce the location of Rottmayer's boss from him. At least, that's what seems to be happening. This is not exactly a film that has its subplots and back stories sealed up too tightly, but director Mikael Håfström's focus on the central plot keeps us distracted—at least until the whole thing comes to a confounding conclusion.

Besides, it barely matters once Breslin and Rottmayer team up to trick the warden (One would imagine Hobbes is smart enough to know the implied, unwritten rule of Breslin's book, which sits on his desk: If the guy who literally wrote the book on how to escape from prison ends up in your prison, do not under any circumstances do anything that he requests), lay a guilt trip on the prison's conscience-stricken doctor (Sam Neill), enlist the aid of a Muslim adversary (Faran Tahir), and uncover some way out of the Tomb. The location is a secret to everyone outside of the prison's staff, and while Breslin starts divining clues from odd observations, the actual reveal of the facility's true nature is worth a hearty chuckle of admiration mixed with the knowledge of how absurdly impractical it actually is.

That could go for the entire film, really. There's an admirable directness to Escape Plan, both in terms of its concise plotting and its awareness of how ridiculous it is while maintaining at least a semblance of sincerity. The film is what it is, and it works.

Copyright © 2013 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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