Escape Plan

Escape Plan

***

Reviewed by: David Graham

As knuckle-headed as you’d expect but also a lot more fun than it has any right to be, Mikael Håfström’s tag-teaming of Sly and Arnie (finally co-headlining a picture) won’t go down as a Heat-style classic, but fans can look forward to more sparring value between their favourite action heroes than Michael Mann offered for Pacino and De Niro nuts. It’s a classic porridge pot-boiler – anyone remembering Stallone’s Lock Up may experience a sense of déjà vu – that’s undoubtedly beneath each of these stars let alone both of them together, but Sly’s as age-defyingly robust as ever, and while Arnie fans may feel short-changed by his reduced role, his screen-time belies a relaxed performance that highlights what a shameless scene-stealer he can be, which will delight and appease his devotees.

Prison-cracker extraordinaire Ray Breslin has only just busted out of one of his toughest assignments yet when a mysterious agent presents herself to his team, enlisting his services to test a privatised underground prototype designed to incarcerate the country’s baddest law-breakers. With his ego tickled by the challenge at hand, Breslin agrees to the job, but the brutality he meets with has him suspecting that someone has stitched him up and left him for dead. With a variety of newbie- phobic cliques, a sadistic warden who doesn’t believe his true identity or just doesn’t care and perspex cells that leave him exposed at all times, Breslin struggles to plot an escape, but respected lifer Emil Rottmayer may just have enough connections to get the job done – as long as he can tag along too.


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Despite admirably attempting to appear otherwise, Miles Chaplin and Jason Keller’s script is transparently stoopid, but mostly in the best way. Breslin’s ever-convenient genius occasionally feels like a cheap way of furthering an already ridiculous plot – who the hell knows what a sextant is, let alone how to build and use one? – but there are a couple of nifty little manoeuvres up the scriptwriters’ sleeves that keep things intriguing, and the premise is brilliantly simple. It’s a bit like Spanish hit Cell 211 but for and populated by people who wouldn’t be able to read subtitles (which would be missing out on one of the best bits here).

What really makes this sort of high-concept but low-brow silliness fly is Sly himself: as with the otherwise loathsome Expendables flicks, his self-assured swagger and obvious relish for this sort of tosh is commendable for someone pushing 70, and make no mistake: Arnie is the supporting player, this is primarily a Stallone vehicle. The Eighties-style brutality of his last outing Bullet To The Head is reined in for a return to Seventies-style suspense, with Breslin’s various schemes and escape attempts – unlikely as they may be – managing to build genuine tension thanks to Håfström’s solid direction, another unlikely boon given his pathetic Exorcist rip-off The Rite.

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It’s also refreshing to see such a multi-national cast exploited in a more positive light than usual, with a character who initially appears to be yet another racial stereotype turning out to be noble and heroic (is America ready to root for Islam?), and Arnie’s hilariously subtitled outbursts highlighting how he might actually be a decent actor beneath the linguistic stumbling block that provides much of his cheesy charm.

He won’t be stepping on Bruno Ganz’s toes anytime soon – although post-Governator exile, the mental image of Schwarzenegger as Downfall’s tragic Hitler springs to mind – but it’s refreshing to see him continuing from The Last Stand as a more natural and mature Schwarzenegger. His comfort with his encroaching crustiness makes him a fitting counterpoint to the steroid-addled, Spitting Image-visaged Sly, and results in a guaranteed roof-raising moment when he finally steps behind the sort of outrageously over-sized weapon of Eighties yore to pump lead into the climax’s wave of disposable bad guys (watch out for those Cliffhanger and Predator references).

Jim Caveziel and Vinnie Jones make a good villainous double bill as the prison’s top brass and boss brawn respectively, the former exuding slimy menace by avoiding sinking too deep into scenery-chewery while the latter takes the opposite tack with bug-eyed, full-Cockney gusto. The inexplicably classy cast is bolstered by the likes of Sam Neill, Vincent D'Onofrio and Amy Ryan, none of whom have much to do but who nonetheless leaven the homo-erotic testosterone-fest taking place behind bars. Even Curtis ‘Fiddy’ Jackson proves an engaging presence as a jive-talking homeboy- hacker, his laidback charisma adding even more frisson to the ensemble. It’s all gob-smackingly daft – Breslin’s back-story completely contradicts his criminal- buddy antics and his near-omniscient abilities are desperately unbelievable – but it’s consistently entertaining and builds a good head of steam in its second half.

The ending attempts to throw in a last-minute revelation that’s at odds with the brainless finale – by that point the plot has become so unbelievably convoluted that the reveal is bound to fall on deaf(ened) ears. Not that it matters: for the most part Escape Plan is another guiltily pleasurable throwback from a couple of throwbacks who should know better by now but thankfully don’t, bless ‘em. It could do with being at least 20 minutes shorter and considering the wattage of the stars it has a distinctly DTV – even TV pilot-standard – sensibility, but it’s brainless fun made all the more so for occasionally posing as smart, with a beguiling puppy- dog charm in its eagerness to please that will surely win it fans among lovers of such knowing trash.

Reviewed on: 23 Oct 2013
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Escape Plan packshot
When a security expert is framed and trapped in the world's most secure prison, he will need all his skills - and more - to make his escape.
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Director: Mikael Håfström

Writer: Miles Chapman, Jason Keller

Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, 50 Cent, Jim Caviezel, Faran Tahir, Amy Ryan, Sam Neill, Vincent D'Onofrio, Vinnie Jones

Year: 2013

Runtime: 115 minutes

Country: US

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