Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 55 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for Violence and Language throughout
Directed by: Mikael Hafstrom
Written by: Miles Chapman & Jason Keller
Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jim Caviezel, Curtis Jackson, Sam Neill, Vinnie Jones, Vincent D’Onofrio & Amy Ryan
From 1980’s to 1990’s, cheesy R-rated action films captured the hearts and minds of Americans. There was nothing like gathering the family together around the TV to watch Arnold Schwarzenegger deliver bloody violence. The hilarious one-liners were just icing on the cake. Sylvester Stallone was also a star of ludicrous glorified B-flicks. Since those times have passed, the mainstream action genre has gone on to play it safe (e.g. NON-STOP) in order to attract the widest possible paying demographic. ESCAPE PLAN tries to recapture the spirit of those crazy rides and winds up with mixed results.
Stallone plays Ray Breslin, an ex-lawyer turned prison escapee. It’s Breslin’s job to break out of high-security prisons and expose their weak points. His latest assignment is a top-secret supposedly “escape proof” facility. This hellhole is known simply as The Tomb. A major problem for Breslin is that his correspondent isn’t the man he was supposed to meet. Instead, this sadistic warden doesn’t believe a word Breslin says. It seems as if Ray will be left in the maximum-security prison to rot, but he makes a fast friend in Emil Rottmayer. Rottmayer is an Austrian-accented criminal played by none other than the accomplished thespian Arnold Schwarzenegger. Together Stallone and Arnold er…I mean Breslin and Rottmayer must use ingenuity and brawn to escape from The Tomb!
ESCAPE PLAN starts strong and ends strong. Things become tedious in the middle. It’s as if the director Mikael Hafstrom (1408) and the screenwriters forgot they were supposed to be making an action film with two high-caliber ass-kickers. The script packs in a lot of unnecessary details and a totally contrived subplot. Because of this, ESCAPE PLAN comes off as disjointed. I didn’t care about the silly plot twists that have been seen in plenty of other movies. I didn’t care about the backstory of Stallone or Arnold. In a film like this, the audience expects to see the two middle-aged action stars kicking ass and taking names. The movie didn’t deliver that until past the hour mark. By that point it was nearly too little, too late in the game.
There are some really enjoyable sections of ESCAPE PLAN though. The first 30 minutes are interesting and (as mentioned before) the last 25 are action packed. Both the reveal of where the prison is located and its exact purpose are pretty neat. There are two good actors among the so-so performers too. Vinnie Jones (SNATCH, MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN) appears as an unrelenting guard and has arguably the best fight scene in the entire film squaring off against one of our heroes. The real scene-stealer is Jim Caviezel as the ruthless warden. Caviezel knows what kind of film this is and seems to be loving every minute of it. He’s a calm, collected, cocky villain. This is the kind of bad guy that makes the audience root for him to bite it in the most painful way possible.
ESCAPE PLAN could have benefitted from a few more rewrites and about a 95 minute running time. Arnold and Stallone seem tired and the script doesn’t give them much to work with for half of the film. It’s a bit of a wasted opportunity, but there’s enough entertainment value to recommend this as a time-killer. We’re never going to get back the Arnold Schwarzenegger who had no qualms about ramming his fist into someone’s stomach and breaking their goddamn spine. It’s also doubtful that we’ll ever see the “First Blood” Sylvester Stallone again too. At least, it’s nice to see two former greats together, even if the film is just barely serviceable.
After all, this is the kind of movie where bullets graze our heroes, but never miss the bad guys. It’s the kind of film where if you turn off all cognitive thought, then you might have fun. It’s got big problems, but if you can live in a cinematic world where Sylvester Stallone is a lawyer, then you will probably enjoy ESCAPE PLAN.