DIRECTOR: Mikael Håfströmescape_plan_xlg

CAST: Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jim Caviezel, Amy Ryan, Curtis Jackson, Vinnie Jones, Vincent D’Onofrio, Sam Neill, Faran Tahir, Caitriona Balfe, Matt Gerald

RUNNING TIME: 115 mins

CERTIFICATE: 15

BASICALLY…: Ray Breslin (Stallone), a man who tests the escapable nature of prisons for a living, is thrown into the world’s most secret, escape-proof prison, and must try and break out of the impossible incarceration with the help of fellow inmate Emil Rottmayer (Schwarzenegger)…

 

NOW FOR THE REVIEW…

For the first act of Escape Plan, and a little into the second, its weight is carried solely by Sylvester Stallone’s presence. Although it does its job in setting up the character and situations via a completely bonkers opening escape from a standard prison and heavy exposition in every other following scene, it doesn’t seem like Stallone can carry the weight like he used to.

His usual charisma is not as strong as it used to be, and in what seems to be one of the most misjudged aspects of the movie it foregoes action scenes for the most part in favour of establishing Stallone’s Ray Breslin as some sort of genius. The later insult of “you don’t look that smart” says it all, really. Who can honestly see Stallone, an actor recognisable for the mentality of “muscles-over-brains” and his baritone, slurred and unintelligible speech, as being a genius? It doesn’t seem like ideal casting, not to mention the fact we only ever see Stallone and not Stallone playing this character, part of the reason anyone would want to buy a ticket in the first place. As a character, there’s not much to Ray Breslin for him to really work with; he’s just another bland character that Stallone can wear the skin of and take charge.

Also bland are his teammates in the film, consisiting of Amy Ryan and Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson. Ryan, a previous Oscar nominee, seems to be putting no effort in a thankless and rather pointless role. This is a shame because her previous work in films like Gone Baby Gone (for which she received said Oscar nod) has proven her ability to stand out, but here she seems completely uninterested in what’s happening throughout the film. Jackson, one of the many rapper-cum-actors in the industry, is baffling in how wooden he comes across in a role just as meaningless as Ryan’s. While his acting abilities never matched his rapping abilities before, this is by far a new low in his ill-guided turn into the dramatic arts, proving to be completely forgettable and dull in a role that matches his attempts.

So far, so-so. It’s only when we are transported to the secret and secure prison codenamed “The Tomb” – the original title before it was mysteriously renamed, which would have probably made for a better title – where things start to pick up. We are introduced to our main baddies, namely Vinnie Jones’ sadistic guard and especially Jim Caviezel’s intimidating warden. Jones is as Jones does, proving as frightening and hard-boiled as the ex-footballer himself, but it’s Caviezel who stands out as the villain who seems to be having the most fun with what he’s doing. His constant puckered lips should not distract from his sneering presence… if anything, it adds to the intensity. Sure, he can become goofily over-the-top sometimes, but he’s definitely having fun with the material and that should not be faulted. After all, if you were the star of a Biblical film that saw you getting tortured for two hours, you’d want to have some fun in a movie as well. There’s also another villainous role who’s pretty easy to spot. Let’s just say that the guy who plays a villain in nearly everything he’s in shows up here, and it’s about as shocking as a paperclip when it’s revealed he’s a bad guy here too.

The design of the prison is nothing that spectacular, and once we discover where the prison is located it doesn’t seem as threatening or intimidating. However, the see-through prison cells have a cool layout, and the isolation chambers look interesting as well. Shamefully, we are not given enough time to them, and we instead have to follow a story that becomes increasingly difficult to follow. We see various scenes of Stallone talking to Caviezel, seemingly ratting out certain individuals with the inner motive of furthering his plans for escaping. Why he needs to do this is never made clear enough for us to understand, or perhaps it was all explained earlier except no-one could really understand Stallone when he did. Scenes of watching guards and their everyday body language to identify who they are (all the guards have their faces masked) goes nowhere and doesn’t really come back in an important way, making it all feel a bit pointless. Other sources, such as Sam Neill’s sympathetic doctor and Faran Tahir’s fellow inmate, are brought in to aid with the plan, but Neill disappears completely once he’s contributed his piece to the puzzle while Tahir acts an unnecessary third wheel whose motives for suddenly joining the main team are not clear. However, Tahir is given some badass moments of his own, possibly sending a message to Hollywood that the character actor deserves a vehicle of his very own. Given his potential in Escape Plan, it should all be closer to a reality.

However, the problem remains that Stallone is still carrying all this weight. Someone else needs to step in and help out while delivering something more. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is where good ol’ Arnold Schwarzenegger comes in.

Schwarzenegger, by far, makes the movie stronger than it is. This might just be one of his finest performances in his long and enjoyable career, certainly his best since getting back into the movie-making business after his stint as Governor of California, because he brings the charm and likability we’ve always known him for but also some real depth we’ve never seen from him before. Emil Rottmayer is not the deepest character you’ll come across, but he’s always interesting and a ton of fun to watch. One particular scene stands out, since it’s one of the first times in a major Hollywood release that Schwarzenegger has been able to speak in his native Austrian tongue. Not only is it a ground-breaking moment in his Hollywood acting career but it’s used to a moving effect. The context is that he is being tortured in the isolation chambers along with other inmates as a distraction for Stallone to figure a way out of the prison. When things seem to become too much for the character, a teary Austrian recital of the Lord’s Prayer is his response. It might seem like one of the most clichéd things to ever be put on screen, but Schwarzenegger delivers it with compassion and real heartfelt passion that you have no choice but to be somewhat moved by it.

Also helping is how he’s been given the film’s best moments and funniest lines, including the earlier insult of “you don’t look that smart” to Stallone. So much so, that whenever the focus turns away from Schwarzenegger in the action-packed third act and we instead see what Stallone is up to, there is a part of you inside letting out an audible groan out of frustration. It’s like your favourite TV programme being suddenly interrupted by the adverts; there’s a desire for them to hurry up so they can get back to the good stuff.

Thanks to Schwarzenegger’s presence, everything else in an otherwise mediocre and daft action film is made out to be so much fun. Even when most of the film sees Stallone and Schwarzenegger talking quietly to each other about how they’re going to escape – which admittedly gets dull and repetitive after a while – it’s still gripping stuff and made all the more watchable based on who’s doing the talking.

For Stallone fans, this is just another one to add to the list. For those in favour of Schwarzenegger, this is probably essential viewing if you want to see the man doing some of his best work in a film. Escape Plan itself is not one of the strongest action films of late, but it still thrives on a healthy mixture of fun and Schwarzenegger.

SO, TO SUM UP…

Escape Plan has an enjoyably daft premise brought to life by the fun and playful chemistry between Stallone and Schwarzenegger, although it is the latter who comes off strongest in a career-best acting performance with added action cheese for good measure.