‘Escape Plan’ Review
"What kind of man would choose to spend his life in prison?"
It’s the most obvious question in Mikael Hafstrom’s 'Escape Plan,' and while it’s asked early on in the startling convoluted action film, it’s never quite answered, probably because the answer is actually, "well, otherwise we wouldn’t have a movie here."
Ray Breslin (Sylvester Stallone) is indeed a man who has chosen to spend his life in prison, but only because his job is to get the hell out of them. Breslin’s job is unquestionably cool – he breaks out of maximum-security prisons in order to illuminate their weaknesses, something he’s so good at that he literally wrote the book on the subject – but that doesn’t change the fact that his highly technical profession doesn’t make much sense. Breslin is one of those “unique set of skills” guys, and his area of expertise seems to encapsulate everything, from the intricacies of dairy product containers to the properties of steel. It’s hard to believe that just because Breslin can break out of a prison that anyone else could, but he’s still hired on for super-secret, highly-paid gigs that include such fun diversions as “making prison enemies,” “burning Bibles,” and “painfully grinning a lot.”
Fresh off another successful prison bust, Breslin and his firm are retained for an offbeat and highly dangerous job. Breslin and his cronies typically only traffic in government gigs, but when a smooth-talking CIA lawyer (don’t worry, her role will never make sense) asks him to check out a privately funded, “off the grid” prison, he jumps at the chance. The money is good. The CIA lawyer is pretty. The whole being-in-prison thing is cool. These are the kind of reasons that populate every moment of ‘Escape Plan,’ weak and wacky as they may be.
Unsurprisingly, Breslin is kidnapped, stripped of his tracking device, drugged, and thrown into a monster of a clink. Housed in what appears to be a giant warehouse, the big daddy prison is somehow both very impressive (glass cells, black-masked guards, nefarious-looking cameras) and totally dumb (no illegal prison would just allow its populace so much recreation time). His secret password doesn’t work when spat at the prison’s obviously evil warden (Jim Caviezel, obviously having a lot of fun playing an irredeemable baddie), and it soon becomes clear that something else is going on here. While both Breslin and the audience will eventually find out just what that is (in a rushed, exposition-filled final ten minutes that seems to have been cobbled together from some sort of “Action Movie Mad Libs”), the entire point of ‘Escape Plan’ is for Breslin to formulate, well, an escape plan, preferably one that involves a lot of guns and chewed up white bread.
And, in the case of this double-whammy actioner, that also has to involve Arnold Schwarzenegger, who is stuck in the mega prison too, and who soon befriends Breslin for no discernible reason.
The film never fully capitalizes on its most basic (and most exciting) elements – namely that it’s got Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger trapped in a state of the art prison, itching to break out of it together. On paper, ‘Escape Plan’ sounds like the most ludicrously entertaining film of the year, but when actually translated to the big screen, the result is bloated and mostly just boring. Nearly two hours long, it’s not even that ‘Escape Plan’ is riddled with starts and stops or waylaid plans, it’s that it simply takes far too long to get to any of that.
Make no mistake, however, ‘Escape Plan’ occasionally has some fun, and its third act is crammed with enough goofy gags and acknowledged action movie tropes to end on a high note. The problem is just how long it takes to get there, with Hafstrom weirdly interested in showing every minute detail of every plan, even if it’s never exactly clear what is actually going on. Filled with bone-crunching, grunt-heavy fighting sequences and nifty graphics that still don’t clarify the damn thing, ‘Escape Plan’ certainly looks like a fun action outing, even if it doesn’t always feel that way.
Fans of action movies probably don’t need a movie poster that touts anyone beside STALLONE! And SCHWARZENEGGER!, but ‘Escape Plan’ features a curiously stacked cast, including Amy Ryan, Vincent D’Onofrio, Sam Neill, and Caviezel, along with genre mainstays like Vinnie Jones and Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson. Unable to craft believable characters, most of the inhabitants of ‘Escape Plan’ are saddled with weird tics to give them even a semblance of personality – Hobbes (Caviezel) is constantly stroking his tie (or, alternately, mounting dead butterflies, simply because every villain needs some sort of gross, weird hobby), Clark (D’Onofrio) is a hand sanitizer freak, Rottmayer (Schwarzenegger) eats meatloaf with his hands, Abigail (Ryan) looks worried.
Written by Miles Chapman (whose only other feature credit is, appropriately, 2006’s ‘Road House 2: Last Call’) and Jason Keller, the screenplay is littered with predictable plot movements, thinly written emotional elements, and a mid-film twist that’s actually strangely brilliant and may be worth the price of admission alone (unless you’re hungry for Schwarzenegger firing a machine gun from a helicopter; there’s that, too).