Dir. by Mikael Hafstrom - 1 hr. 55 min.
by Clayton Hollfield
First off, Sylvester Stallone has a really lumpy face. That's actually an asset in films like this, but it stood out upon watching "Escape Plan," and I thought I'd get that out of the way. Also of note, "Escape Plan" isn't going to go down in the top handful of films that either Stallone or co-star Arnold Schwarzenegger has done, but at the same time, it wasn't "Wild Hogs" or "Space Cowboys," with constant jokes about how old the stars are, and their assortments of balms and ointments. Instead, this is a straight-up thriller, basically physically solving a seemingly unsolvable puzzle, and makes good use of the people involved, and if you're down with this sort of thing, you won't regret watching it.
Ray Breslin (Stallone) make a living escaping from prisons. Like, super max security prisons, even from solitary confinement. He owns a security consulting firm built around selling his particular skill-set to those who would need it, abetted by his "techno-thug," Hush (Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson), resident female skeptic, Abigail (Amy Ryan), and business specialist, Lester Clark (Vincent D'Onofrio). A woman comes in with a dodgy offer, claiming to be from the C.I.A., but with impossible and unfriendly circumstances, and yet with a sufficiently attractive fistful of dollars. So a day later, Ray is abducted and thrown into a very daunting and harsh prison. Upon landing in the prison, Emil (Schwarzenegger) slowly befriends Ray, and they work together to first figure out where the hell they are, and then to find a way out of where they are.
I joked ahead of time that I was going to be sorely disappointed if there weren't any explosions here, and that nearly happened. "Escape Plan" relies a lot more heavily on tension, and personal physical violence (and a pressing system) than pyrotechnics. And even though both Stallone and Schwarzenegger are clearly still in pretty good shape, it's not a shirtless kind of movie, nor a wall-to-wall action kind of movie. This is about solving a puzzle when there seemingly aren't any clues to start with, and surviving the circumstances. While I found the set-up interesting (at least interesting enough to catch the movie in the first place), I can't say that the film gives you a chance to solve things for yourself. Honestly, the solutions are too complicated to do that, but when Ray breaks out of the first prison (to show you that he's really good at this, instead of just telling you that and hoping you'll take their word for it), I think viewers will find themselves more amazed that this character can make something out of nearly nothing than seeing the puzzle and having the character beat them to a solution.
The suspense of the bigger job that Ray is hired for is enough to carry the movie. Although both stars bust off a couple of good one-liners along the way, this is also not the kind of free-wheeling, blowing up everything while caring not even a little bit kind of film. I bring this up because a big part of why someone would want to go see "Escape Plan" is also the same reason that the two "Expendables" movies have done well - nostalgia. And this film is not like a lost production from the 1980s. To everyone's credit, they are not just trying to repackage an old product and pass it off as being fresh; they've made a movie where the main characters are older because they are, and they're not trying to pretend they're not. "Escape Plan" also doesn't feel like the sort of movie that could have starred anyone. If it were Vin Diesel and Dwayne Johnson here, you might question if either of them were really smart enough to be an escape artist, specializing in impossible situations (no insult to either, but neither man has made a career playing brilliant men to date). The main annoyance I had was that the people who had weird quirks were immediately obviously bad guys (because they had quirks instead of death glares), but I can't get too mad about it. This is not a stage production of "Hamlet."
On the whole, I was glad that I caught "Escape Plan," and especially on a big screen. It's not going to blow anyone's mind, it's probably not going to be in line for any year-end awards. But it's intended to be a couple of hours of entertainment, preferably for people who have enjoyed Stallone's and Schwarzenegger's work over the years, and who don't feel the need to nitpick things to death. I mean, it's Rambo and the Terminator side-by-side, and that's pretty cool. I can't imagine needing to watch it again, but there are always colds and viruses floating around, and oddball movies on cable all around the clock.
2 / 5 - Theatre