Should I Watch..? Escape Plan
What's the big deal?
Escape Plan is an action thriller film released in 2013 and was the first movie to feature legendary action stars Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger together as co-leads. The film also stars Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson, Jim Caviezel, Vinnie Jones, Sam Neill, Vincent D'Onofrio and Amy Ryan and was directed by Swedish filmmaker Mikael Håfström. The movie concerns Ray Breslin, a professional security expert and jail-breaker who finds himself incarcerated in a maximum security facility operated by shady government forces and his attempts to escape with fellow inmate Emil Rottmayer. The film received a mixed reception from critics but went on to earn more than $137 million worldwide, enough for Stallone to consider a forthcoming sequel Escape Plan 2: Hades (1).
What's it about?
Ray Breslin is one half of Breslin-Clark, a LA-based firm specialising in testing the security of prisons by having Breslin incarcerated and then subsequently escape via the observations and assumptions he makes on the inside. He is aided by his team - his business partner Lester Clark, computer hacker Hush and co-ordinator Abigail Ross - and is the only choice for CIA Agent Jessica Mayer who wishes the firm to test a maximum security facility that is strictly off-the-books. The only catch is that nobody must know where the facility is, meaning Breslin would be on his own. Tempted by the $5 million fee offered, Breslin finds himself picked up and drugged from New Orleans before being taken to this top-secret prison.
Once there, he quickly discovers that it's a set-up. The tracker his team implanted has been removed and the warden he expected to see has been replaced by the sadistic and cruel Warden Hobbes. Realising that someone on the outside wanted rid of him, Breslin (now under the guise of a Spanish bomber called Anthony Portos) must use every trick in his book to escape but he can only do this with the help of fellow inmate, Emil Rottmayer, who takes an unhealthy interest in Portos' affairs.
Ray Breslin / Anthony Portos
Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson
Miles Chapman & Jason Keller (as Arnell Jesko) *
Release Date (UK)
18th October, 2013
Action, Mystery, Thriller
Razzie Award Nomination
Worst Actor (Stallone)
What's to like?
The days of these two giants of cinema producing genuinely thrilling cinema have long passed but that doesn't mean that there is no fun to be had with Escape Plan. Much like Sly's revisionist action franchise The Expendables (2), the movie feels like a forgotten throwback to a simpler time and age. The story gives both men the opportunity to engage in manly fistfights and gun battles and to be honest, it's nice to see the pair of them working together. Sly seems a bit more energetic than his Austrian counterpart but Arnie switches to his native language during the film (itself, quite a shock) and even starts acting in places. True, his performance is as hammy as his thighs but he gives it a go. Both men are older and wiser so they stick mainly to their strengths.
For me, the real star was Caviezel who plays an utterly irredeemable prison warden with some degree with relish. It does make me wonder why he's not cast in more films but the film is not exactly stacked with talent, despite the names on the cast list. The film is one big set-up for these action icons to engage with and by and large, they do just yet. There are plenty of prison fights while Stallone's escape from solitary confinement is a surprisingly tense affair. Switch your brain off and you can really enjoy this simple movie, something I wasn't expecting to at the beginning.
- The idea of having Stallone and Schwarzenegger work together in a movie has been kicking around since their Eighties heyday but despite the hype, this wasn't their first film together. They first appeared on screen opposite each other for a single scene in The Expendables before sharing a bit more screen time in The Expendables 2 (3).
- The dubbed German version had to recast Schwarzenegger's voice with a different actor. Thomas Danneberg - who normally dubs him - also provides the dubbed voice of Sylvester Stallone and the studio didn't want to confuse the audience!
- This marks Stallone's third film set in a prison after Escape To Victory (4) and Lock Up (5). It's his fourth if you consider his character being cryogenically frozen in Demolition Man (6) as a stay in prison.
What's not to like?
For a while, the film works but the longer it goes on then the worse it gets. The story has all the intellect of a sandbag and doesn't make a whole lot of sense once the ending arrives. I couldn't figure out why the inmates, considering they are supposed to be prisoners so bad that no country wants to house them, weren't rebelling at every corner - why were Stallone and Schwarzenegger the only ones appearing to start a brawl? Why didn't Warden Hobbes recognise Breslin, seeing as he has a copy of his book on his desk? Who decided to cast Vinnie Jones? The film throws up so many questions, my head was spinning by the end.
In fact, the only thing I could understand was who set Breslin up because it is so obviously signposted that I debated whether to reveal their identity in this review and not declare any spoilers. The worst thing though is for all the hoopla about getting Stallone and Schwarzenegger on screen together, the film doesn't really give them much to do with each other. There's a fistfight with a bit of banter thrown in but there's no tense face-off, no memorable moment that the film captures. Frankly, the film could have starred The Rock and Vin Diesel or Dolph Lundgren and Steven Seagal and it wouldn't have made much difference.
Should I watch it?
I wouldn't go out of my way to catch it but Escape Plan is the dumbest action film that still manages to put a smile on your face. It won't make much headway on either actor's CV but the film is a bundle of daft fun, hard-hitting action and surprisingly tense escape sequences. It reminded me of the Ocean's Eleven (7) reboot except this isn't as cool, funny or imaginative.
Great For: boys night in, retro thrills, rentals (can you still rent DVDs anywhere?)
Not So Great For: convicts, prison showings, anyone who has read a book
What else should I watch?
Both Stallone and Schwarzenegger have made far better movies than this, regardless of their respective co-stars. Stallone will forever be linked to Rocky Balboa thanks to his Oscar-nominated turn in Rocky (8) while I still maintain that his best outing as John Rambo, the traumatised Vietnam vet with an itchy trigger finger, was the less-violent-but-more-intense First Blood (9). Schwarzenegger, on the other hand, has a veritable feast of classic action movies like Commando (10), Predator (11) and the Terminator (12) franchise - well, the first two.
Everyone loves a good prison break-out and cinema has offered plenty of timeless films over the years. Probably the greatest is... erm, The Great Escape (13) which sees the endlessly cool Steve McQueen lead a bunch of POWs to freedom via some nifty motorcycle riding although many people would argue The Shawshank Redemption (14) is the best. My favourite has to be Cool Hand Luke (15) which sees Paul Newman rebel against the system in his own particular way and absolutely refuse to back down. There might not be an attempt to escape but his resistance is both inspiring and uplifting.
© 2018 Benjamin Cox