Escape Plan review: old-fogey action

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Escape Plan yellow light Sylvester Stallone Arnold Schwarzenegger

Nothing here is as clever as it is desperately trying to be, but Stallone and Schwarzenegger are game to give us a good time.
I’m “biast” (pro): have a sneaking fangirl affection for Stallone and Schwarzenegger I’m “biast” (con): nothing (what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

Arnie! Sly! They’re old! They’re still in damn good shape for old guys, and still able to pull off Hollywood action nonsense in a fairly plausible manner, as Hollywood nonsense goes. So it’s not their chronological ages — 66 and 67, respectively — that makes them seem unfashionably dated here. It’s the complete lack of appreciation for how much the world has changed since the 1980s, when they were in their Hollywood-nonsense prime, which Escape Plan appears to be hoping to evoke.

It wouldn’t take much for the setting here — a secret, remote, privately funded for-profit prison designed to make highly undesirable people “disappear” without charge or trial — feel like a commentary on the protofacism that has crept up on America and the rest of the so-called free world these days. Yet it’s nought but window-dressing, an excuse for Arnie to get waterboarded, it’s fun!

Stallone (Bullet to the Head, The Expendables 2) is an expert in prison security who goes undercover in Supermax-type facilities in order to test them, and his latest job goes awry when the “Blackwater rejects” running The Tomb — or is it The Hive? The Pit? some nasty moniker, anyway — decide they actually don’t want him to leave, for nefarious and wildly unclear reasons. Stallone’s Ray Breslin knows everything about everything, from the precise temperature at which steel rivets will fail (and how to achieve that temperature) to how to construct a sextant from scratch, which is handy. But in order to affect an actual, for-real, no-safe-word escape, he still needs the help of inmate Rottmayer (Schwarzegger: The Last Stand, The Expendables 2), who is happy to assist the odd new guy because of reasons that make no sense until the movie thinks they do, and then they still don’t really track.

Nothing here is as clever as it is desperately trying to be, with its needlessly convoluted tacked-on explanations for what feels like lazy plotting; the forced catchphrases deliver a particular awkward pain. (And, really: If The Tomb is as hugely secret and illegal as it is — it makes Guantanamo Bay look like a project of the ACLU — then why bother imprisoning these guys at all? Why not just kill them and dump their bodies at sea?) Just that missing bit of satire or cautionary tale needn’t have reduced one iota the fist-slamming, tear-gas-tossing, bullets-flying action.

And yet… I confess it may be nothing more than my own 80s fangirl nostalgia at work, but I kinda enjoyed spending time with these guys again. They are game, at least, to give us a good time. Which we get as long as we don’t think about it too much.

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Sat, Oct 19, 2013 12:17am

Saving this review as a response next time someone tells you that you need to learn to “turn your brain off and just enjoy it!”

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  Jurgan
Sat, Oct 19, 2013 12:25pm

I couldn’t *quite* turned my brain off here, but I did still enjoy it.

Sun, Oct 20, 2013 10:46am

So unlike Bullet to the Head and The Last Stand… what’s changed to make this one work? A slightly more competent director and screenwriters?

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  RogerBW
Wed, Oct 23, 2013 1:35pm

The MacGyverisms were amusing and clever. And the slightly speculative themes gave me a little bit of stuff to think about, even if the film didn’t bother to explore them much.