Movie Review – Escape Plan (2013)

Escape Plan, 2013.

Directed by Mikael Håfström.
Starring Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, 50 Cent, Jim Caviezel, Vinnie Jones, Sam Neill, Faran Tahir,Vincent D’Onofrio and Amy Ryan.

Escape Plan Poster

SYNOPSIS:

When a structural-security authority finds himself set up and incarcerated in the world’s most secret and secure prison, he has to use his skills to escape with help from the inside.

Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone in Escape Plan

Back in my younger days on the school playground there were often divides. Were you a Coke or a Pepsi kind of person? Blur or Oasis? Sega or Nintendo? Another divide among young adolescents weaned on videos they weren’t yet old enough to watch: Were you a Sly or Arnie person? Now granted it was entirely possible to like both, but when push came to shove you had to pick a side. My side was Sly Stallone. My brother was an Arnold fan. In actuality I secretly had most of my support pitched in the Dolph Lundgren camp but back in the day that wasn’t really a socially accepted option (it was my dirty little secret). If Arnie and Sly were Pepsi and Coke, Lundgren was RC Cola. He didn’t come into the debate. With the benefit of time, and resurgence in interest for the 80’s action hero, a lot of these guys have come back into fashion. In some regards many have become more popular, or perhaps more likeable than they ever were (Lundgren for example is considered somewhat cool by more than just his diehard fans now).

The Expendables franchise made many an 80’s and 90’s childhood daydream come true. It bought together a whole host of action icons together in the same film. Most importantly of all it bought Sly and Arnold together on film for the first time. If the first two Expendables films teased us with the prospect of a team up, with overtly self-referential winks and nods, Escape Plan finally brings these two action titans together in a proper two hander. So once the credits roll, have the childhood fantasies been lived up to? Who wins the battle for screen presence superiority? Is it Arnold or Sly?

I read one review for this film before-hand. They likened Escape Plan to something that Cannon films would have made in the 80’s, as if that was somehow a bad thing. The comparison is certainly apt, but if, like me, you were a fan of Cannon, then this film will not let you down. In terms of the script, there’s little originality. This is something of a relic. It feels like it’s been pulled out of a vault that’s been locked for 20 years, and then been polished further by simply pilfering the odd idea from other B-movie prison films, notably Fortress. Arnold and Sly fans might yearn to see the two come together in something as good as their best works, but it’s unlikely in this era. The ambition isn’t really there from the studios. This is knowingly simple, intentionally old hat. It does what it says on the tin and little more. Does it coast on the star power? Absolutely.

Stallone plays Ray Breslin, a professional prison breaker who has managed to break out of every high security prison in the country. He’s the best of the best. He’s then hired to road test a brand new, state of the art (and at times weirdly futuristic) prison that is privately funded in order to house criminals that people want locked away forever. It seems there’s an ulterior motive though as Breslin finds that he has been set up and has no get out of jail free card if the worst happens and he can’t escape. Inside he plots his escape and befriends Emil Rottmayer, played by Schwarzenegger who aids Breslin. All that stands in the way of their freedom is the impenetrable (and slightly improbable) prison, a sadistic warden (Jim Caveziel and his sadistically violent chief guard Vinnie Jones, played by Vinnie Jones (actually the character is called Drake, but every Jones character should just be called Vinnie Jones and have done with it). It’s silly but the escapes have some nice touches, whilst the whole high concept prison plot is a good place to confine Sly and Arnold in and allow them to do their stuff. It might be old hat but it’s enough up their alley (with nods to Lock Up, Tango & Cash, and Running Man) to work, whilst allowing for plenty of fighting and a vintage finale.

Stallone is okay here. It’s one of these roles where Sly is kind of coasting. He’s good. He’s a tad miscast as an expert in physics, science, metals and other such things, but then again this is a film which casts 50 Cent as a computer whizz (he’s clever because he has glasses and most surprisingly isn’t too bad here). Breslin lacks the edge of a Rambo, or charisma and charm of a Balboa. It’s something of a middle level in Sly’s CV. He’s certainly been worse. The support cast are decent. There’s Vincent D’Onofrio, Sam Neill, Amy Ryan and of course Vinnie Jones who though merely reals off his trademark Vinnie-isms, does what he does well. Caveziel makes for a good villain. He’s slimy, he’s intense and Caveziel plays Warden Hobbs with as much relish as Donald Sutherland in Lock Up. In terms of who walks away with the star of the film award though, that is the Oak himself, Ahnuld Schwarzenegger. Arnie is the one who really breaks from type. He’s the one doing something different and enjoying himself the most. There’s a twinkle in his eyes and it’s the sort of character we’ve not seen Arnie play yet. If he was ring rusty in The Expendables 2, and finding his feet in The Last Stand, he’s well and truly back into full swing here. When it comes down to kick ass time though, Arnie gets to go vintage with some heavy weaponry.

The action is solid. Whether intentional or not, this is shot pretty much like a standard 80’s action film. In fact it’s more Walter Hill than Walter Hills (and Sly’s) Bullet to the Head was. Director Mikael Hafstrom offers plenty of serviceable fisticuffs and shootouts to keep the audience amused. The prison design may owe other films some credit but it’s effective. There’s a solid score from Alex Heffes that’s effective and never intrusive, though never memorable. The cinematography evokes early 90’s. In part down to the look of the film, in part down to shooting on 35mm and perhaps largely intentional. It doesn’t have an overtly modern glossy look, whilst the film isn’t cut in an overly hyperactive manor that might be attached to a more fashionable film for younger folk.

Fans of both Arnold and Sly will largely walk away satisfied (more so Arnold fans), as will old school action fans. For those who are more at home watching the latest Marvel offering, or teen book to movie transition, then Escape Plan will feel decidedly straight to video. In truth, going back to the Cannon comparison, while this does have a place on the big screen, its true home feels more like it should be on video (or Netflix as VHS is now known…). The two stars aren’t likely to find box office success here. Much like their last solo offerings, the money will be made back upon home release. They will need better projects to do, rather than these tired scripts, otherwise the only hope of maintaining big screen careers will lie in their established franchises. At least in Schwarzenegger’s case there’s a concerted effort to push himself dramatically. A solid start with The Last Stand continues with an interesting change of pace here. 

Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★

Tom Jolliffe