Escape Plan (2013) / Thriller-Action

MPAA Rated: R for violence and language
Running Time: 116 min.

Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jim Caviezel, Amy Ryan, Curtis '50 Cent' Jackson, Sam Neill, Vincent D'Onofrio, Faran Tahir, Vinnie Jones, Matt Gerald, Caitriona Balfe
Director: Mikael Hafstrom
Screenplay: Miles Chapman, Arnell Jesko (Jason Keller)

Review published October 24, 2013

Sylvester Stallone (Bullet to the Head, The Expendables 2) stars as hi-tech security expert Ray Breslin, founder of his own security company and respected author on the 'bible' of the best standard practices of prison security. He's regularly hired by those in the prison industry to test out their own security, putting Ray in the middle of the prison population and seeing if he can break out, which he inevitably does. Breslin is soon met by a lawyer (Balfe, Now You See Me) working for the CIA who has a job offer twice his normal going rate: he is to be dropped in the middle of 'The Tomb', a privately-funded supermax penitentiary housing "the worst of the worst" prisoners who are put there without due process.

Not much sooner after Breslin accepts, he is tranqed and wakes up in the middle of the most advanced super-prison he has ever seen, with transparent cells, abusive masked guards, a tyrannical warden (Caviezel, Deja Vu), and massive amounts of fortification. Without anyone on the outside knowing where he is, and no one on the inside knowing who he is, getting out is going to prove next to impossible without a little planning and a lot of help from his newfound friends, including a crafty criminal named Emil Rottmayer (Schwarzenegger, The Last Stand).

Escape Plan is at least a couple of decades too late to bring in the once-large fan-bases of Stallone and Schwarzenegger, formerly the biggest action stars of their 1980s and early 1990s, working here together for the first time in a significant way (the miniscule part Arnie played in the Expendables series hardly counts). The plot of this formulaic film feels just as creaky as the idea for putting these two action titans together, playing like a mix of "MacGyver" and Stallone's own Lock Up. This is the kind of film that makes up its own rules as it goes along, where the plot necessitates such contrivances as Breslin needing a flat, metal object about 3-inches round, and Rottmayer knowing exactly where to get one (in the floor of the warden's interrogation room, of course!). There are a number twists in the plot, some glaringly obvious, and a couple that are genuinely surprising (perhaps because they are so farfetched, we'd never think of them as plausible.)

By the same token, even though Escape Plan is a very dumb action-thriller, if all it takes is the allure of seeing Sly and Arnie trade a few quips and exchange a few blows to get you on board, you'll likely find this low-aiming vehicle to be an adequate time-killer. Even at its nearly two-hour length, Swedish director Mikael Hafstrom (1408) keeps the editing tight and action always moving briskly. Though the main attraction is the pitting together of the lead performers, there is also an appealing supporting cast around them, including an intense Jim Caviezel, Amy Ryan (Win Win), Vincent D'Onofrio (Sinister), and Sam Neill (Irresistable) in a mostly undemanding role.

50 Cent (Get Rich or Die Tryin') is the weak link in the cast, playing against type as a computer guru, though he's not given very many lines. Schwarzenegger gets the best part, and he makes the most of the opportunity, playing up the part with a good deal of comic relief ("You hit like a vegetarian," Rottmayer quips after taking a punch from Breslin) -- it's one of his most appealing performance in nearly 20 years. Meanwhile, Stallone plays his role straight, and even though both credited leads are well into their 60s, they still exude a credible tough guy swagger and brawny physique to buy in the hardnosed action roles.

While Escape Plan's assets aren't quite enough to sate many outside of die-hard fans of its two stars, it's the kind of old-school, meat-headed, no-brain actioner that will likely find an audience on home video, where the ability to utilize subtitles will prove a huge asset for a film featuring the slurs of Sly, the accent of Arnie (who delivers an entire scene speaking German), the thicker accent of Vinnie Jones (Year One) and the ever-mumbly 50 Cent. If your expectations are sufficiently low, it's even possible to find this tosh passable entertainment, as the thriller editing is well put together, even if the script is full of plot points that are too difficult to believe (do you really think a penitentiary would put a keypad entry on the cell door that is within easy reach of the food hatch and expect to pass the test with flying colors?), and the mediocre quality of the CGI belies its $70 million budget (likely, it went mostly to the actors). 

But, if farfetched premises, illogical motivations, and contrived developments are likely to ruin your enjoyment of a dumb thriller, you'll likely find this film's 116 minute run time to be a sentence too long to bear, causing you to seek an escape plan of your own long before the overblown action finale.

Qwipster's rating:

2013 Vince Leo