Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Escape Plan

For F*** Magazine


Director: Mikael Håfström
Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jim Caviezel, Vincent D’Onofrio, Vinnie Jones, Sam Neill, Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson, Amy Ryan
Genre: Action, Thriller
Run Time: 116 mins
Opens: 24 October 2013
Rating: NC16 (Coarse Language and Some Violence)

        Sometimes, a movie’s biggest selling point is what two names are next to each other on the poster. Think Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh. Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. Al Pacino and Robert De Niro. Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. Now, how long have action movie junkies been hankering for the names “Sylvester Stallone” and “Arnold Schwarzenegger” to sit side by side on a stylish one sheet? Yes, they’ve rubbed shoulders on screen in the Expendables movies, but they didn’t get the limelight all to themselves there. Escape Plan offers up the team-up everyone has been waiting for, but was the years of anticipation worth it?

            Ray Breslin (Stallone) breaks out of prisons for a living as the co-owner of Breslin-Clark Security, helping federal prisons identify and tighten weaknesses in their security. He does this with external help in the form of Abigail Ross (Ryan) and “techno-thug” Hush (Jackson). Lester Clark (D’Onofrio), the “Clark” in the company’s name, sends Breslin on a mysterious assignment to test the strength of a top-secret, off-the-books, human rights-violating prison. Unfortunately for him, he ends up double crossed with seemingly no chance of getting out. Smartly-dressed evil warden Hobbs (Caviezel) keeps a firm thumb over everyone in the facility, nicknamed “the Tomb”. Breslin’s only bid for escape is a partnership with fellow inmate Emil Rottmayer (Schwarzenegger), though even then freedom seems far out of reach.

            Escape Plan has an effective, high-concept premise and what seems like a great set-up for an action hero union between the Italian Stallion and the Austrian Oak. It does take on something of a throwback tone, attempting to emulate the action thrillers of the 80s and 90s which the target audience of this film would be dyed in the wool fans of. Production designer Barry Chusid’s sets have a tinge of dystopian science fiction flavour to them and the scary expressionless masks the prison guards wear bring to mind the android police in THX: 1138.

            Unfortunately, the pay-off here is kinda disappointing. For a team-up with such build-up attached to it, the film doesn’t live up to the expectations associated with “Sly and Ahnold, together (for real) at last”. The plot holes begin to stack up after a while and the middle of the film is very much a procedural with Breslin going around piecing together the plan of the title. The greatest action films have at least two or three memorable action set pieces – this doesn’t really have any, most of the action scenes are pretty much brawls in the mess hall. Even the climactic escape attempt doesn’t have the creativity or innovation that a sequence with Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger in the thick of battle deserves.

            All that said, it truly is nice to see the two living legends working in tandem for the duration of the movie. The two have had a well-documented rivalry that began almost the moment they met, which has eventually turned into something of a friendship and they do share quite the bromance here. Both characters seem to get along pretty well from the get-go, so they aren’t played against each other though they do have a staged fistfight. Ray Breslin is depicted as a genius, putting his deductive and observational prowess and MacGyver-ing skills on display. Arnold’s actually even better here than he was in his post-politics comeback flick The Last Stand earlier this year, clearly having a ball. If you’ve always wanted to see him recite The Lord’s Prayer in German for some reason, this is the movie for you.

            Naturally, he recites said prayer in the presence of Jim Caviezel, best known as Jesus in The Passion of the Christ. Movies of this type require villains you’ll love to hate, and Caviezel could well be the best thing about Escape Plan. Any prison movie needs a sadistic warden and Caviezel does a fine job as a truly despicable character and he is just theatrical enough. Caviezel is known for generally giving one-note performances but he gamely chews up the scenery and spits it out with entertaining relish. Vinnie Jones is a serviceable brawny henchman though we don’t really see a lot of him and Sam Neill plays it straight as the prison doctor whom Breslin has to get on his side, lending a touch of humanity to the overblown macho proceedings even though the characterisation doesn’t make a lot of sense. This reviewer was concerned that there’d be too much 50 Cent in this; thank goodness there isn’t. There isn’t a lot of room for the development of any other inmates besides Breslin and Rottmayer really, though Faran Tahir is good as Javed, a pious Muslim inmate who eventually assists in the breakout.

            If you’re a genre fan, there are things in this film to like and it is adequately entertaining, but at the same time there seem to be buckets full of missed opportunity. Taking these two guys and locking them up seems to restrict what they’re able to do; the nature of the “prison escape” plot prohibiting a truly extravagant, eye-catching stunt or chase. The reveal of the reason Breslin is locked in the Tomb in the first place didn’t sit too well with this reviewer. In the end there’s a degree of escapism and if you lock your disbelief in a cold dark place, you could have a good time with it – and it helps that Stallone and Schwarzenegger do seem to be having a good time too.

SUMMARY: We expected more from the proper teaming up of Rambo and the T-800, but don’t lock this one up and throw away the key – parts of it are fun and Jim Caviezel darn near steals the show.

RATING: 3 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong 


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