Review: 'Escape Plan' an Appropriately Big, Cumbersome Action Mess
by Jeremy Kirk
October 18, 2013
Like the promise of Godzilla Vs. King Kong or, hell, even Freddy Vs. Jason, Sylvester Stallone teaming up with Arnold Schwarzenegger has been a long-gestating action junkies dream. The Expendables and sequel sated that appetite a bit, but the inevitable, full-throttle, buddy action movie boasting the two of them in dueling lead roles could not have come soon enough. That film is finally here, and Escape Plan, for all of its strengths and weaknesses, is precisely the Stallone/Schwarzenegger tug-of-war is expected to be. Lumbering, heavy on the action in the back-half, and ponderous in the amount of quips these action stars can bounce off of each other, it's the epitome of getting what you wish for, whether you like it or not.
The two action stars do appear in co-leads, though the beginning of Escape Plan might have you thinking it's a Stallone film. He plays Ray Breslin, one of those action movie lead characters with a "certain set of skills." Breslin can break out of any prison on the planet, and he's paid very well by correctional facilities to have him point out to them the chinks in their armor. Breslin goes inside the prisons as an inmate and promptly begins to work his magic.
After a cryptic deal with a new, somewhat mysterious client, Breslin finds himself completely off the grid, without any help from the outside world, and locked up in the most secure prison in the world. Thank God Schwarzenegger is in there as an inmate, as well, to help Stallone, I mean Breslin, break out and find whoever set him up.
That Stallone/Breslin joke is apropos at this point in his career, though. The same goes for Schwarzenegger. It doesn't matter what their character's names are. When the quips and verbal banter about who's bigger or who could kick whose ass start flying, their never let up. It's all in good fun, though, you see. The screenplay, written by Miles Chapman and Jason Keller, wouldn't dream of creating any real drama or excitement about these two really going head-to-head.
There's not even an ounce of real suspense when Stallone and Schwarzenegger are involved. It doesn't take a genius to choreograph precisely which characters are going to die when, and even that comes after roughly 90 minutes of setup. Escape Plan is a full two hours long, and the real meat of the action doesn't kick in until the last quarter. At least the film ends with an action flourish that pretty much saves it entirely. Director Mikael Håfström captures that action without too many frills, and the sheer impact it has in tempo carries the action through to the finish.
Escape Plan also gives us some classically hammy villains to be on the receiving end of the duo's wrath. Jim Caviezel, taking a page from the books of every action movie villain between 1991 and 1998, could not be more over the top. Vinnie Jones as Caviezel's right hand man looks perfectly in place. Even the odd secondary cast of characters filled by Vincent D'Onofrio, Amy Ryan and 50 Cent seem precisely where they should be. Just behind and off-center of the real stars.
The big guns Escape Plan has in its arsenal might be old, but they still pack a mean punch when necessary. In case that's too cryptic, I'm talking about Stallone and Schwarzenegger who, dinosaurs or not, are still considered icons of the genre. They've slowed a step or two, especially in recent years, and the dialogue kind of spills out these days. Put them in the center of an action set piece, and their sheer presence kicks it up a notch or two.
A film can't be recommended only on the merits of its big, action-packed finale, and Escape Plan isn't the movie on which to make an exception to that rule. The first 3/4 of the film are plodding, so much exposition and senseless set-up that has you crawling for some classic, '80s-level action. An explosion, at least. But as meandering as most of the film is, it's never boring, and the promise of one, extended, awesome action scene is just enough to keep you invested in the proceedings. Stallone and Schwarzenegger - and we, the action fans of the world - finally have their big, team-up movie, and like the action powerhouses themselves, Escape Plan is a bulky mess. It still knows how to fire a mean weapon, though.
Jeremy's Rating: 6.5 out of 10
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