Review: “Escape Plan”

For fans of 80s action movies, there’s nothing more exciting than the prospect of seeing Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger on the big screen together. We were lucky enough to see them tear it up in the finale to last year’s “The Expendables 2,” even if the movie itself was a tad bombastic when taken as a whole, but their time together was limited. In their newest, “Escape Plan,” they’re best buds.

In fact, once Breslin (Stallone) finds himself locked in a seemingly inescapable high security prison, he and his muscular counterpart are practically inseparable and, naturally, they attempt to break out together. A warning to those 80s action fans: this isn’t the action extravaganza you might be hoping for and, frankly, if you want to see a breaking-out-of-prison movie, you should probably stick with 1979’s masterful “Escape from Alcatraz,” but if you find that movie to be too realistic and crave something a little bit faster, louder and dumber, this will suffice.

The set-up is fairly simple, if a bit absurd. Breslin has a unique talent. He has an uncanny ability to break out of prisons. His job, in a sense, is to incarcerate himself in high security prisons around the country, supposedly inescapable ones, and find their flaws. However, he has just taken on a job that may be too risky even for him. After being drugged and flown to a secret location, he finds himself locked up in a prison unlike anything he’s ever seen. After realizing he was set up to spend the rest of his life here, held captive by the evil warden Hobbes (Jim Caviezel), he gets determined to break out, but not without the help of Rottmayer (Schwarzenegger).

Other characters in the film, who serve mainly as Breslin’s consultants, are played by the likes of Vincent D’Onofrio, 50 Cent and Amy Ryan in a “what in the world is she doing in this?” role. Aside from some minor moments and a late movie twist, these characters are all throwaway and are there for nothing more than forced exposition. They’re missing for such a large chunk of the movie that by the time they pop up again near the end, you’ve nearly forgotten about them completely. Their inclusion is indicative of a movie with some neat ideas, but no real way to write them in, which is to say, the script is a mess, the dialogue simplistic and the story rote.

But “Escape Plan” is more than the sum of its parts. When it works, it fires on all cylinders, offering up some surprisingly exciting moments, including one slow motion “Arnold moment” that will have all classic action movie fans cheering. It’s with these moments that the film excels, when it throws out any notion of believability or proper storytelling (neither of which are its strong suits) and decides to ham it up-like Stallone’s “Expendables” movies, only less explosion-y.

Where “Escape Plan” falters most is in its careless handling of its two primary villains, the warden and a mystery character I’ve not named. While both actors do what they can in their roles, particularly Caviezel, who chews the scenery in a delightfully campy way, it’s the screenplay that ultimately lets them down, never really giving either much of an identity. Even worse, their send-offs are anticlimactic, amounting to nothing more than disappointing fizzles in a movie that promised more.

When all is said and done, “Escape Plan” will be one of those movies that will be enjoyed, but never watched again by the vast majority of those who see it. It’s a fun enough diversion while it lasts, but it doesn’t do enough to justify repeat viewings. It’s a welcome return for Schwarzenegger, if we can forget about the lackluster “The Last Stand” from earlier this year, and Stallone bounces back nicely after the dreadful “Bullet to the Head” from around the same time. This is not the movie a Stallone/Schwarzenegger crossover should be, but it’s worth a look nevertheless.