Ray Breslin (Sylvester Stallone) is an expert in high-security prisons; so much so that he has been hired by the Federal Bureau of Prisons to be inserted as an inmate and figure out the facility’s weaknesses. He’s been in every federal prison and managed to escape from 14 of them. Breslin and his partner Lester Clark (Vincent D’Onofrio) run a security firm that works to make prisons escape-proof. CIA operative Jessica Miller (Caitriona Balfe) contracts with Breslin and Clark to check out their top-secret facility used to hold terrorism suspects and others who are considered the worst of the worst. Miller offers them double their usual fee but insist the prison’s location remain a secret. Breslin’s assistant and some-time lover Abigail Ross (Amy Ryan) and tech guru Hush (Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson) don’t like the restrictions but Breslin takes the job anyway. Breslin is abducted off the streets of New Orleans, thrown into a van, is drugged and a tracking chip injected in Breslin’s arm is dug out and destroyed. Waking up in mid-transport, Breslin sees one of the guards, Drake (Vinnie Jones), murder a prisoner and throw him out of the helicopter they’re in. Drugged again, Breslin remains unconscious until he wakes up in a Plexiglas cell on a raised platform which is part of a massive complex of other cells called The Tomb. The guards wear masks and seem to be everywhere. There are remote controlled camera pods that give people in the control room 360-degree views of every cell. Taken to an intake room, Beslin gives Warden Willard Hobbs (Jim Caviezel) a code number that is supposed to end his incarceration. Hobbs tells him he knows nothing about a code and Portos (the fake name Beslin was entered under) would be in the facility for a very long time. In the recreation area, Breslin, still being called Portos, is approached by Emil Rottmayer (Arnold Schwarzenegger), the assistant to a “Robin Hood” type financial hacker who has stolen money from the rich and given it to the poor. Rottmayer is being held until he gives up the location of Mannheim, his boss. The two begin an uneasy partnership as Breslin faces the toughest challenge of his career and is surrounded by dangerous drug dealers, terrorists and prison guards, any of whom could kill him at a moment’s notice.
The Union of Prison Wardens and Guards (which doesn’t exist) will not be giving their movie of the year award to “Escape Plan” as everyone at the facility is an evil sadist. Batons, electric cattle prods and other painful measures are used with abandon by the staff and the idea of rehabilitation is left at the prison entrance. This facility is strictly to punish, torture and, if deemed necessary, kill the detainee. The judge and jury is a warden who is mad with power and the executioner is a staff of guards who know their actions will be approved of, as long as it doesn’t cost the warden any money. This is not the place you want to go…EVER. So, of course, it’s the perfect place for Rocky/Rambo and Conan/the Terminator to be teamed up together to break out of.
Seeing Stallone and Schwarzenegger working together would have been the wet dream of many 1980’s action movie fans. Would the pair be able to pull off a high-intensity, stunt-heavy, fight-filled movie with both men in their 60’s? The answer is yes they can, and no, they can’t. I can hear you asking, “What do you mean by that, Stan?” First, thanks for asking. Second, what I mean is while the movie is fun and often humorous, I never for one moment thought either Stallone or Schwarzenegger were anyone other than Stallone and Schwarzenegger. These two larger than life (figuratively and literally) actors are such caricatures of themselves and their past roles, you never forget that you’re watching two actors whose best work is behind them. Add to this the iconic nature of their movies and you get two players who make it impossible to forget you’re watching Stallone and Schwarzenegger. Actors like Tom Hanks, Christian Bale and Sandra Bullock are able to occupy a role so completely their persona as a celebrity disappears. Not so with Stallone and Schwarzenegger. You always have the memories of Rocky or the Terminator or Rambo or Conan or Cobra or Kindergarten Cop or Demolition Man or Twins or whatever movie sticks out in your mind as you watch whatever they do. Neither man is a terribly good actor so you have to depend on the material fitting their specific limited abilities. Stallone is passable to good as the “every man” while Schwarzenegger is just kind of a joke no matter what role he’s in. Their films must be heavy with a combination of stunts, special effects and violence for the audience to accept their characters. Fortunately, “Escape Plan” has a fair amount of violence and stunts to keep either man from having to carry the movie with their acting.
While I’ve been pretty harsh with both men so far, that doesn’t mean the movie is unwatchable. The contrary is more accurate as “Escape Plan” works pretty well as a prison break and action movie. None of the fights get too fancy with martial arts or quick moves that neither Stallone nor Schwarzenegger could convincingly pull off. The violence is pretty straight ahead fist fights with a little gunplay thrown in near the end. A fight between Stallone and Schwarzenegger gets pretty funny early on then turns into something of a brawl between several prisoners. The escape plan is largely implausible and requires perfect timing and an enormous amount of luck. Still, watching the planning and execution is pretty entertaining. The film is also sprinkled with a decent amount of humor with both main players poking a bit of fun at themselves and their past glories. It was refreshing to see these action movie icons were both in on the joke.
The rest of the cast is largely underutilized except Jim Caviezel. His Warden Hobbs is a combination of fastidiousness and fascist. While he may throw in a few too many character traits, facial tics and picking at fuzz balls on his clothes, Caviezel can never be accused of being boring while on screen. He spits out threats and insults with unabashed glee. Warden Hobbs is a man who loves his job and especially enjoys keeping his thumb on the prisoners and the guards. Caviezel seems to really live in the role and he plays it with abandon, sometimes to the point of over acting without actually crossing the line.
“Escape Plan” is rated R for violence and language throughout. There are numerous fights throughout the movie and most aren’t bloody. There is one exception involving a fight near the end. There are some shooting that cause a spray of blood on impact. We see a tracking chip graphically cut of Stallone’s arm while he’s awake and a stab wound stitched up by the prison doctor without the use of anesthetic. There’s also a person who is burned by an explosion and we see him on fire and falling onto the floor. Foul language is common throughout.
“Escape Plan” is a fairly generic action movie and the leads could have been played by any number of younger stars. Channing Tatum, Vin Diesel, Jason Statham, Dwayne Johnson, Mark Wahlberg and many other actors could have taken the roles and made the same movie with the same action and the same humor. While the presence of Stallone and Schwarzenegger give the movie a certain nostalgic feel, they also tend to pull the attention of the audience away from the story. Perhaps this was done to divert attention away from a generic script. Whatever the reason, “Escape Plan” has two former titans of action movies whose best work is 30 or so years behind them. Still, these two old dogs manage to squeeze out one more decent movie between them but it could have been better.
“Escape Plan” gets three guitars out of five.
A big lineup of movies and documentaries for you to choose from this week and I’ll review one based on your votes so let me know what you want me to see next.
The Counselor—A successful lawyer gets in over his head when he decides to dabble in the drug trade.
Inequality For All—In his Wealth and Poverty class at U.C.- Berkeley, former Labor Secretary Robert Reich discusses the grave economic and social consequences that may result if the gulf between rich and poor continues to widen.
Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa—86 year-old Irving Zisman is on a journey across America with the most unlikely companion, his 8 year-old Grandson Billy and will take movie audiences along for the most insane hidden camera road trip ever captured on camera.
Romeo and Juliet—William Shakespeare’s epic and searing tale of love is revitalized on screen and is reimagined for the 21st Century. This adaptation is told in the lush traditional setting it was written, but gives a new generation the chance to fall in love with the enduring legend.
The Summit—The story of the deadliest day on the world's most dangerous mountain, when 11 climbers mysteriously perished on K2.
We Are What We Are—Behind closed doors, a patriarch rules his family with a rigorous fervor, determined to keep his ancestral customs intact at any cost. After tragedy strikes, his daughters are forced to assume responsibilities that extend beyond those of a typical family.
Stan’s Choice—Stan sees and reviews any film of his choice currently in theatres or On Demand.
Release dates are subject to change and not all films may be shown in Knoxville, TN.
Question and/or comments are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Stan on Twitter @moviemanstan.