It’s not a secret that Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone were action movie rivals throughout the eighties and early nineties, squaring off against each other at the box office with films including The Terminator, Tango and Cash, Total Recall and Stop, or My Mom Will Shoot… okay, maybe not so much the last one, but the closest the boys ever got to teaming up was poking fun at each other within their films (Stallone as the terminator in Last Action Hero, or President Schwarzenegger in Demolition Man). That all changed with Stallone’s successful attempt to bring the eighties back to the big screen with The Expendables, but Schwarzenegger only made a minor cameo, which was more an inside joke than anything else. With the prison-escape movie, Escape Plan, we finally get to see the two team up for real.
Stallone plays Ray Breslin, a professional breakout artist that spends his days as an inmate to find the flaws in prison security. There is no concrete reason why he does this (except for a rather vague family history that never seems to get resolved), we just know he’s really good at it. When he’s offered twice his usual fee to check the security of a new experimental prison, he quickly finds out that he’s been set up. To find out why, he enlists the help of inmate Rottmayer (Schwarzenegger), who may have a hidden agenda all his own.
A lot of the action sequences involved in Escape Plan are your typical eighties action fare, with near escapes, gunfire that almost always hits the bad guys but never the good guys, and great stunts surrounded by unbelievable circumstances. The main protagonist (played with steely-eyed menace by Jim Caviezel) is also a typical eighties villain, complete with vain narcissistic debonair that leads to an arrogant naiveté.
What gets lost in translation is any and all subplots, leaving the minor characters so minor, they are basically forgotten about. So much so that the comeuppance of one of the villains is so abrupt, it was if the filmmakers tacked it on at the end because it had become an afterthought more than anything else.
This may all make it seem as if I didn’t like it, but for whatever the reason, it all still works as fun, escapist fare. The solo films that Stallone and Schwarzenegger made earlier this year (the mediocre Bullet to the Head and the insipid The Last Stand, respectively) couldn’t achieve the bravado that they carry together in Escape Plan. Jim Caviezel also brings a secondary menace to Hobbes, adding a light touch to the comic relief embedded throughout (though I was expecting a little bit more on this front). And including Sam Neill as the prison doctor adds just enough gravitas to make it respectable.
For all of the unlikely scenarios the two get themselves into, the lack of respect for the secondary characters, and the stupidity of the villains, the film still has a way of making you believe in, and root for, the unbelievable. It may not be their best, but Escape Plan gives you exactly what you expect. In this case, do you really need anything more?
My Grade: A-
Next week, new movies include The Counselor and Jackass Presents: Bad Grampa. If you would like to see a review of one of these, or any other film out next week, please respond in the comments below.