Escape Plan

Posted: November 3, 2013 in Film reviews
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Directed by Mikael Håfström. Starring Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Stallone is Ray Breslin, a man with a quite unique job, he’s a professional escape artist, employed to go into prisons as an inmate to determine how secure they are…by trying to escape (and usually succeeding).

After breaking out of a maximum security prison in the US, he’s hired by the CIA who want him to test the effectiveness of a new, ultra secure secret prison that has been set up to keep the most dangerous men on the planet locked up. Despite reservations about the morality of such a lockup, Breslin is tempted by the opportunity to test himself against a supposedly escape proof prison. As usual he’s given an evacuation code to identify himself as a plant, and he’s told the prison warden is in on the deception.

After being kidnapped in New Orleans Breslin wakes up in the super-prison to discover that the warden’s never heard of him, and that his evacuation code is useless. Because the prison is completely off the grid he knows his colleagues won’t be able to find him, so his only hope is to escape the escape proof prison…and in this he has help from a mysterious inmate named Emil Rottmayer (Schwarzenegger), but can the two men outwit the nefarious warden and his goonish henchmen, or has Breslin finally met his match?

If this film had come out in the 80s or 90s it might well have been the blockbuster of the year, nay decade, because the idea of two of the biggest movie stars on the planet teaming up would have been big news back in the day. That this film comes out without too much of a fanfare is, therefore, a bit of a shame, but though both men are still in the game; Stallone never left but his career has peaked and troughed, and Arnie is only just getting back into the saddle after the end of his political career, they aren’t quite the draw they once were.

Still the idea of the two men teaming up for the first time still generates a buzz, just so long as you ignore the first two Expendable films, although that is a trifle unfair, as here they do share billing for the first time rather than as part of an ensemble. Although Stallone is technically the lead in the film, with Arnie in a supporting role, to be honest that ranking doesn’t quite tell the whole story…but I’ll come onto that…

Escape Plan is one of those films that’s terrible. It’s also one of those films that’s brilliant, and at times it’s hard to determine which bits are which, because often the film is at its most enjoyable when it’s being terrible.

This is a film that needs to reinforce the fact that Stallone’s character likes solving puzzles by, er, leaving a huge array of puzzles on his desk, a film that doesn’t think it’s enough to have a character invoke the Hippocratic oath to try and gain help from a Doctor, oh no, this is a film that feels you need to see the Doctor then look up the Hippocratic oath so it can focus the camera on the words so you can actually read the Hippocratic oath yourself!

Subtle this film is not.

It’s also a film that is, up to a point, a little dull. The point when it stops being a little dull is when Arnie arrives, which thankfully isn’t too long a wait. This isn’t to suggest Stallone is a bad actor, or that he lacks presence, it’s just that Arnie has more charisma, and when he shows up the film noticeably lifts. One-liners become a bit funnier, ridiculous conceits become even more ridiculous (and thus more enjoyable). He will never go down in history as a great actor, but he will go down as a great film star, and watching this and The Last Stand in the past few days made me realise that I’ve missed the big old Austrian.

Luckily he’s back!

It’s a film with many problems of course, the direction and script are a little workmanlike in places and though Stallone always provides a solid action lead you never quite buy him as the former prosecutor turned escape artist, and you can’t help wonder if the role wasn’t meant for someone like Bruce Willis.

This is a film that will make you ask yourself a lot of questions…questions such as; Was that really 50 Cent? How does Vinnie Jones keep working when he’s the most atrocious actor on the planet, and has Sam Neill ever been as wasted in a film as he is here? But if it doesn’t make you also smile when Sly and Arnie go toe to toe or when Arnie wrests a machine gun from the side of a helicopter and his gaze narrows…well you were obviously never a fan of 80s’ action films…

Still (Vinnie Jones aside) the cast is good, with Jim Caviezel providing a worthy foe as the evil warden, and Faran Tahir gives a good account of himself as a, shock horror, heroic, noble Muslim, and whilst the film never really digs deeply enough into the morality of the prison, the very existence of the off the grid gaol, it’s multi-faith population and the use of torture by the US government means this is no Green Beret style flag waving exercise.

People might be disappointed that a film that trades on Stallone being clever enough to think himself of any prison ends up relying on a lot of explosions and gunfire, but this is a Sly/Arnie film, so it’s churlish to have expected anything else.

Probably not in many people’s top films of the year list, but hopefully not in too many worst of lists; it’s stupid fun, which is no bad thing, so whilst it probably doesn’t deserve a full pardon, hopefully people won’t lock it up and throw away the key!

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