Friday, October 25, 2013

Escape Plan

Grade: 64/B

In 1985, the world likely would have lost its mind had Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone announced an upcoming collaboration. In 2013? Not so much.

After the diminishing returns of their mainstay franchises and senior-citizen action vehicles, Escape Plan, their first full co-starring vehicle (not counting Ah-Nuld’s cameos in The Expendables films), saw lukewarm reception at its first weekend at the box office. It’s a bit of a shame: while the film can’t compare to the stars’ 80s heyday, it’s a highly enjoyable (and thoroughly absurd) thriller from two stars whose age hasn’t negated their charisma.

Stallone takes the central role as Ray Breslin, a former prosecutor now running a security firm testing maximum security prisons. Breslin has spent his life busting out of prisons under an alias, but a shady deal sends Breslin to a complex prison with no view of the outside to indicate his location, and no way to contact his team. Placed under the eye of a particularly creepy and controlling warden (Jim Caviezel), Breslin has to find a new way to escape, and he finds a partner in fellow inmate Emil Rottmayer (Schwarzenegger).

Escape Plan was directed by Mikael Hafstrom, a journeyman action director behind such “what was that again” films such as 1408 and The Rite. He stages the action  functionally, but not particularly memorably. The script by Miles Chapman and Jason Keller doesn’t do anything new with the prison-break formula, either, and it spends too much time setting things in motion and wasting a talented supporting cast that includes Amy Ryan, Sam Neill, and Vincent D’Onofrio (50 Cent is here, too, for what that’s worth).

But the chemistry of Stallone and Schwarzenegger carries the film a long way, mixing long-awaited fistfights with scenes of the two learning the ins-and-outs of the prison for their escape. In a way, there’s intelligence to the unabashed stupidity of the film: so much of it is less about the action and more about watching the two work together. Caviezel’s great fun as a memorably persnickety villain, but the film is at its best watching the two banter (Arnold: “You hit like a vegetarian”).

Stallone shows why, when he chucks out the self-conscious grimness, he’s among the most charismatically inarticulate actors who ever lived. Schwarzenegger is particularly strong, mixing his trademark self-awareness with a liveliness more reminiscent of his Terminator 2/Total Recall heyday than his too-jokey later projects. He’s as fun as ever when wielding a machine-gun, but more memorable still is a confrontation with Caviezel involving a pen, a piece of paper, and a tale of his youthful artistic ambitions in one of the best “fuck you” moments in recent memory. Escape Plan won’t go down as one of the best films in either actor’s filmography, but it stands as proof that we may see more good work from them yet.

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