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The spirit of 1980s Cannon Films rises from the grave in Escape Plan. With Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger taking on roles that, back in those days, might have been played by Chuck Norris and Dolph Lundgren, it’s a chance to relive the cheesy look, demented plotting, cardboard characterizations and tacky style that characterized the lower tier of action filmmaking once upon a time. They just don’t make ’em like this anymore, and it’s a good thing, too. A portion of the Expendables audience will reliably turn out for this claptrap, but it really is a blown opportunity to do something at least amusing, if not special, with the two still-pumping muscle-bound legends.
Devising a story that would enable Stallone and Schwarzenegger to share the screen for more than a few seconds, as in the first two Expendables installments, is the only justification for a jerry-rigged venture like Escape Plan. Stallone remains his customary taciturn self in the role of a high-security guru who gets himself incarcerated in allegedly escape-proof prisons just to ingeniously devise ways to get out. But Schwarzenegger, as the sharpest inmate in the most tightly sealed slammer of all, gets pretty amped up here in some of the dialogue scenes (notably one in which he switches into speaking German), suggesting he might be ready for some different sorts of parts than what he’s been known for in the past.
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Just as imperturbable as ever, Stallone plays Ray Breslin, the renowned author of the definitive tome on prison security, who somehow manages to anonymously get himself locked up in the toughest prisons in the United States (14 and counting) and then break out, thus exposing their deficiencies. His office partners who have his back are played by the not entirely convincing team of Amy Ryan, Vincent D’Onofrio and Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson.
Normally, Ray is implanted with a sensor so that his partners know where he’s incarcerated. But when he accepts a lucrative invitation from the CIA to test his abilities in a secret, corporately run joint where really bad types are sent to permanently disappear, Ray ends up on his own there under the name of Portos (the fourth musketeer). The cells in this vast chamber, which bears a passing resemblance to the industrial core in Monsters Inc., are clear glass, enabling the inmates to be seen at all times. If you’re really a bad boy, you get sent to cramped quarters where banks of bright lights keep you warm, toasty and virtually blinded the whole time. The place is presided over by the warden, Hobbes, a carefully attired, soft-spoken sadist played by Jim Caviezel as if planting the flag for any Anthony Perkins-like weirdo roles that might come along in the near future. Also on the staff are an English enforcer, played by Vinnie Jones, and a doctor (Sam Neill) who might not have particularly wanted this assignment.
Most of Ray’s time is taken up by Emil Rottmayer (Schwarzenegger), who notices how Ray is always observing guard behavior and checking things out. Aside from chatting him up at meal time, Emil saves Ray from a violent mob but then engages him in a fist-fight (“You fight like a vegetarian,” he insults his smaller opponent) and finally engages in a joint effort to find the stir’s weak spot, not to mention where in the world they might be.
The interplay in the screenplay, by Miles Chapman and Arnell Jesko, ping-pongs between banal and dumb, but this is still preferable to the incoherence of the final stretch, in which Ray spends most of his time in a vertical chamber that keeps filling with and then losing water while mayhem breaks loose on board. The absurdities mount as director Mikael Hafstrom reveals who’s been in cahoots with whom (including the leader of a sizable group of Muslim prisoners), how they figure out their geographic location and how the good guys, as always, are so much more accurate shots than the company goons. And in one hour, any rewrite expert in Hollywood could have come up with a dozen better “Hasta la vista, baby”-type taglines for Arnold than the ultra-lame salutation he uses here.
Still, Schwarzenegger, sporting salt-and-pepper hair and a becoming goatee (there is actually a “Look for Mr. Schwarzenegger created by …” line in the final credits), comes across as unusually energized, much better than he did in his first post-governator starring vehicle, The Last Stand, which was released in January. Near the end, Rottmayer tells Breslin, “I hope I never see you again.” A feeble wish: The two stars will be back on screens together again next August in The Expendables 3.
Production: Mark Canton, Emmett/Furla Films, Envision Entertainment, Bois/Schiller
Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jim Caviezel, Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson, Sam Neill, Vinnie Jones, Faran Tahir Vincent d’Onofrio, Amy Ryan, Graham Beckel, Matt Gerald, Caitriona Balfe
Director: Mikael Hafstrom
Screenwriters: Miles Chapman, Arnell Jesko, story by Miles Chapman
Producers: Mark Canton, Randall Emmett, Remington Chase, Robbie Brenner, Kevin King-Templeton
Executive producers: George Furla, Mark Stewart, Zack Schiller, Alexander Boies, Nicolas Stern, Jeff Rice, Brandt Andersen
Director of photography: Brendan Galvin
Production designer: Barry Chusid
Costume designer: Lizz Wolf
Editor: Elliot Greenberg
Music: Alex Heffes
R rating, 116 minutes
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