Escape Plan (2013)
“Breaking out is an inside job.”
Director: Mikael Hafstrom
Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, 50 Cent
Synopsis: When a structural-security authority finds himself set up and incarcerated in the world’s most secret and secure prison, he has to use his skills to escape with help from the inside.
At an age when most men are spending their days pottering around an allotment in their cardigans, 1980s action heroes Sylvester Stallone (Rocky, Get Carter) and Arnold Schwarzenegger (Total Recall, The 6th Day) haul out their ageing frames for yet another mindless action picture. As they vainly attempt to fend off the inevitable effects of ageing, the boys have found that their options are shrinking with frightening speed. Action movies are all each of them knows, it’s all they’re good at, and it’s only a matter of time before no amount of hair dye and anti-wrinkle cream will be able to disguise the fact that these guys are just too old to be doing this kind of thing. They’re going to do themselves an injury if they’re not careful. And the fact that they’re now regularly making movies together when there was once no chance of such a thing happening suggests they’re keenly aware that the clock is ticking all too quickly towards that end-of-shelf-life date. It’s surely only a matter of time before they each suffer the ignominy of cameo appearances in remakes of their past hits…
Stallone plays Ray Breslin, a consultant for the Federal Bureau of Prisons whose job involves being placed undercover in high-security prisons as an inmate and then seeing whether he can find a way past their supposedly fool-proof security systems. Breslin’s skill is demonstrated in an opening sequence which sees him escaping from the solitary confinement cell of a top security prison using just a used fag packet, a carton of milk shake and some soggy toilet roll. You think I’m kidding? I kid you not. Ray Breslin could escape from ADX Florence using just a sneeze and a wink, that’s how good he is. His choice of career raises the question — voiced twice by different characters, but never convincingly answered — of just why a free man would want to spend so much time locked up in prison, and the fact that dead children and spouses play a part in the answer gives an indication into the questionable quality of Escape Plan’s screenplay.
Naturally, Breslin’s skills are in high demand, so it’s no surprise when CIA representative Jessica Miller (Caitriona Balfe — Now You See Me) offers him a mission to try and break out from a shady maximum security prison in a secret location in which the world’s scummiest villains and terrorists are to be illegally incarcerated. Against the advice of his colleagues, Abigail (Amy Ryan) and Hush (Curtis ‘50 Cent’ Jackson), Breslin accepts the assignment, much to the satisfaction of his business partner Lester Clark (Vincent D’Onofrio). Abigail and Hush insist on Breslin having a tracking device injected under his skin so that they know where he’ll be, but no sooner has he had it inserted than he’s abducted from a busy street by hooded men who cut the tracker out of his arm and drug him.
Breslin awakes in The Tomb, the prison of which the CIA agent spoke, which has been designed entirely as recommended by Breslin in his ‘Gold Standard’ book on prison security. The Tomb is overseen by the cruel Warden Hobbes (Jim Caviezel) who makes it clear to Breslin that he will never leave The Tomb alive. However, shortly after arriving, Breslin is approached by a man called Rottmayer (Schwarzenegger) who offers to help him in his attempts to thwart the prison’s security system in return for the chance to escape with him…
Escape Plan is probably a step up from the worst of Sly and Arnie’s individual action movies from the 1980s and ‘90s, but only just, and it has a small-budget feel about it thanks to most of the action taking place in the cavernous Tomb prison. Schwarzenegger is very much the sidekick here, leaving most of the action scenes to Stallone, although director Mikael Hafstrom (1408) has to get pretty creative at times to fool us into believing either man is actually doing what it looks like he’s doing. There’s also a suspicion that perhaps Arnie hasn’t kept himself in as good shape as his co-star who, although closing in on 70, still manages to look a good deal younger. Stallone wisely steers clear of the topless shots these days, but — in the name of artistic integrity, presumably — is still prepared to wear a not-very-tight tee shirt when the part calls for it.
Jim Caviezel plays the lead bad guy with relish, keeping his performance low-key to the point of near-comatose which is presumably a deliberate decision to provide a contrast with all those raving, egomaniacal bad guys of old. His understated delivery hints at all sorts of repressed emotions which makes him all the more intriguing. And when the story drags, as it does on occasion, we have Vinnie Jones in full-on Rottweiler mode, providing a little bite for those who feel no action movie is complete without at least one mindless thug. The story, by the way, travels way beyond far-fetched and into the land of the ludicrous. The ending, in particular, which feels kind of rushed and requires explaining to Breslin (and no doubt a good few members of the audience), will leave most people wondering just why he and Rottmayer part on such good terms.