Review: Escape Plan (2013)

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Director: Mikael Håfström
Screenwriters: Jason Keller & Miles Chapman
Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jim Caviezel, Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson, Sam Neill, Vinnie Jones, Faran Tahir & Amy Ryan
Runtime: 115 min // Certificate: 15

“There’s life in the old dogs yet” as the saying goes, though whether or not it might soon be time to put said dogs down is perhaps up for debate. Capitalising on the success of the Expendables franchise, director Mikael Håfström recruits Arnie and Stallone to form an ever-reliable twosome in this ridiculous but passable action thriller that offers just enough throwbacks to the good old days to make it watchable, even though it fails to live up to the promises of its ludicrous premise.

The plot is, as in all the greatest Arnie / Stallone flicks, as ridiculous and convoluted as they come, though it’s nice to see that at least some effort has been put into formulating a story. Stallone plays Ray Breslin, a man whose career involves him entering prisons as an inmate so he can expose the weaknesses in the system. When a $5million offer to test the defences of a top-secret, high-tech prison in an unknown location comes his way Breslin is quick to accept, even though it breaks all of his usual regulations. On his way to the prison Breslin – under the pseudonym “Portos” – is ambushed and incarcerated in a complex known as “the Tomb”. When it becomes apparent that he has been set-up and that the Warden, Hobbes (Caviezel), is in on it, Breslin is forced to befriend fellow prisoner Emil Rottmayer (Schwarzenegger) in order to attempt a breakout.

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At just under two hours, Escape Plan is a classic example of a film that takes far too long establishing a story when deep down, no one really gives a shit about the details. I doubt anyone put this on expecting a rich, layered and complex plot that offers a deep insight into its characters or the American prison system in general, rather we simply wanted to see two action legends kickin’ ass, takin’ names and firin’ off as many cheesy one-liners as they do bullets. This, however, is where the rot sets in. Though there’s just enough nonsense in the film’s numerous action sequences to keep things entertaining, it’s all a bit repetitive and, worse still, restrained. There’s no Commando or Rambo style “one man (or in this case, two men) against an entire platoon” stuff here, which means that you never quite get the sense of fun that the action classics provide.

Similarly, though neither Arnie nor Stallone are revered for their thespian abilities, their performances in Escape Plan are particularly shocking. Arnie delivers his lines like he’s learning English for the first time (again…) while Stallone struggles to string together simple sentences without mumbling even more than usual. It doesn’t help matters that the script is dogshit (“Have a lovely day, asshole” is the only line that made me laugh in the entire film, though only because it’s so random), nor that the plot is an intangible mess, but you get the feeling that both men just got bored one day and decided to star in Expendables-lite to pass the time.

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Nevertheless, despite this, Escape Plan is just about daft enough to work. Vinnie Jones’ laughable villain, who for some reason wears what resembles a gimp suit, is a particular “highlight” and the actual breakout is well choreographed and full of impossible action wackiness. No matter how bad it gets – and on some occasions it gets very bad indeed – there’s still a certain childish charm to seeing Arnie and Sly team-up to take on the system, and you can’t help but cheer when the bad guys get their comeuppance, even though we have no idea why Rottmayer is in prison and so for all we know Breslin is escaping with a paedophile or a terrorist or something…

That, however, is a minor detail that just doesn’t matter. Like The Last Stand and Bullet to the Head, Escape Plan just about survives as a result of the audience’s nostalgic love for what these guys do best but if you’re not into brainless action films then I can’t really recommend this one to you at all. It isn’t fun enough or clever enough to withstand repeated viewings, and though it boasts some decent set design and a frankly baffling cameo by Sam Neill as a Doctor with a conscience, the film never really feels anything more than generic and try-hard.

Or maybe I’m just getting too old for this shit… actually, no, scratch that. Maybe they’re just getting too old for this shit. Yeah, that’s more like it…