With The Escape Plan, Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger aim their hopeful gaze towards the ultimate genre movie event; this is, if we’re talking about the year 1985. This pulpy action movie was designed as a co-starring vehicle for two former box-office rivals who have recently spent a few sparse minutes together onscreen in The Expendables franchise. Now it’s supposed to be the real deal. Just Sly and Arnie in a movie together where none of the other characters really matter. Sounds perfect, right?
Well it’s not perfect. But it is alright.
Sly plays Breslin, a world renowned prison security consultant and author. His general game plan is to get himself incarcerated in the highest-security prisons and then expose their weak points by breaking out. He’s usually wired and has a team of specialists working with him from the outside. When Breslin ends up taking a deal (courtesy of the CIA) for a super-secret, corporatized, maximum-security facility that contains “the worst of the worst,” all bets are off. Double crossed and left at the mercy of sadistic prison officials, Breslin is tortured in various ways including sleep deprivation. All seems hopeless until he meets up with Arnold’s Rottmeyer, an inmate who takes a special interest in Breslin. At first, Rottmeyer shows his usefulness by protecting Breslin from getting his ass kicked. Eventually, the two team up to break out of the joint together
The smaller roles in this movie only serve as a distraction to the main attraction. Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson plays a tech genius with computers. Fiddy only really demonstrates that his acting is as lazy as his rapping. Jim Caviezel steps in as the vicious warden, and Vinnie Jones assumes the persona of a rough-and-tumble guard. The prison, too, is its own character and is utterly ridiculous with glass-constructed cells so prisoners can be observed at all angles at all times. It’s supposed to remind us of Demolition Man, I guess.
Forget all that. This film experience is all about the two leads. Stallone assumes the straight man persona, and Arnold is the wise-cracking counterpoint. The script tries to set up Arnold with a new set of trademark one liners, but it doesn’t exactly succeed. They don’t make one liners as snappy as they did in the 1980s. Arnold still tries his damndest to have some fun in his role. He and Stallone do seem to enjoy bouncing off each other and playing around with their former status as genre studs.
The high-concept story would be fine enough for a threadbare film designed for these two leads to enjoy more than a few minutes together on the big screen. Unfortunately, the plot grows a little too convoluted with too many pesky details that weigh down what would otherwise be a wild ride. Plus, there’s just not enough action to satisfy the target audience’s bloodlust. The fights seem too clean and choreographed, and there’s no down-and-dirty action at all. When Arnold finally wraps his hands around a gun, the movie takes off a little bit. He speaks some German too, which is much more enjoyable than you’d ever imagine — I can’t believe this hasn’t happened sooner in an Arnie pic.
Fans of 1980s action pics will enjoy this movie enough. It’s not the most satisfying team-up one can imagine between Sly and Arnold, but these men simply wouldn’t be believable doing the crazy ass stunts they used to perform. Hell, those stunts weren’t even believable back then, but they worked because Sly and Arnold threw themselves into the fray with such gusto. Here Arnold does all the heavy lifting (with less screen time) while Sly walks around grimacing and trying to move his plastic surgery face. Yes I went there. If Nicole Kidman can be called out for her Botox abuse, then I sure as hell don’t mind saying that Stallone’s vanity ruins the marvelously rough face we fans used to enjoy.
Seriously, can I make fun of these guys for being “old” and still trying to bring it like they’re 35 years old and freshly pumped full of steroids? Hell yes, I can. If this were two women trying to make the same movie, well, that movie would have never been made. These days, the likes of Arnold and Sly’s former physical prowess has been replaced in Hollywood by CGI trickery and spray-tanned abs. Seeing these 60-something guys go through the motions does feel fresh in a way even if they are slower than they used to be. Fortunately, Arnold’s charisma shines through and keeps the film feeling alive, but just barely.
Sadly, the final product reminds me a lot of Righteous Kill in that we’ve got two leads, who have circled each other for decades, finally coupling up for an extended joint effort. Now Stallone and Schwarzenegger (unlike Al Pacino and Robert De Niro) might not be legendary actors, but they are legends in terms of their genre. What do we get from Arnie and Sly in their own movie together? We get a half-assed story, not enough action, and a wasted opportunity. It’s not the worst experience if you just want to see these guys back in (half-)action, but it could have been so much more. Escape Plan was content enough to throw Arnold and Sylvester together and hope the rest of the movie would magically come together. The end result is simply not enough to live up to expectations.
Agent Bedhead lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She and her little black heart can be found at Celebitchy.