After many decades and two non-starters in the form of the Expendables films, '80s steroid icons Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger have finally made a proper team-up film. Fans of the actors will probably be satisfied by Escape Plan, which gives them both plenty of fisticuffs and gunplay to perform. For everyone else, the movie is a light bit of entertainment, something that could be mistaken for direct-to-video if not for the star power. Stallone plays Ray Breslin, who goes to prison for a living. Or rather, he breaks out of prisons, exposing their design flaws, for a living. But he may have met his match in agreeing to test the security of a top-secret installation for political undesirables known as "The Tomb." Once he's in, he realizes that he's been set up to never get out, and The Tomb appears impenetrable. It seems to be completely underground, has masked guards on randomized shifts, and omnipresent surveillance. Fortunately, Breslin soon finds help in Emil Rottmayer (Schwarzenegger), who's adept at nabbing helpful little tools and knows how to get favors from other inmates. The two plot their escape, with a few twists and turns along the way, of course. Stallone and Schwarzenegger are called to perform much talkier roles than we're used to seeing from them. Despite being hulking muscle slabs, Breslin and Rottmayer are both Smart Guys, and much of their struggle to escape The Tomb is cerebral. For Stallone, this means that he squints and shifts his eyes around and delivers reams of exposition without much conviction. For Schwarzenegger, it actually results in some good fun. In one scene, he fakes a mental breakdown, and he's more naturalistic than most of the B-movie fluff he's ever been in, probably because he's speaking in his native tongue. Of course, the movie finds ways to fit plenty of punching and shooting into the story. And all things considered, the titular escape plan isn't terribly complicated. The Great Escape, this ain't. Which is a shame, since this film, and really, any breakout, heist, or other kind of film which involves meticulous plans and schemes, could stand to learn from the likes of The Great Escape. Escape Plan falls into the trap of making it very obvious when a plan will and won't work. If the characters explain it out loud, the audience automatically knows it will fail. If they don't disclose the plan, then we know it will work. But there's no tension in this, because the viewer has no real idea what's at stake. It's far better to give us a plan, and then throw complications into it, to see how the characters adapt. That is the very basic essence of drama, and this film sorely lacks any narrative pull. It's especially shameful how the movie wastes a great cast. Amy Ryan, Vincent D'Onofrio, and Curtis Jackson play Breslin's co-workers, all of whom could have been dropped without losing anything. They spend half the movie doing variations on, "Where is he?!" before disappearing entirely, only to show up again at the end, having played no part in Breslin's escape. Sam Neill has an utterly thankless role as the Tomb prison doctor. In every shot, he has a wary look on his face, as if there's a man pointing a gun at him standing just out-of-frame, forcing him to be here when he'd really rather just be at home, reading the newspaper or something. Vinnie Jones is a generic as all get out henchman to the warden, played by Jim Caviezel. Caviezel is the only one who gets to have some fun, playing the amusingly sadistic warden like a 18th century high society fop who's somehow been transported to the present. He's all fastidious mannerisms, a man whose soul seems to have been stripped away by a lint roller. Escape Plan is cheap, forgettable, and harmless. Despite featuring the big Arnie/Sly buddy-up that action movie fans have wanted so desperately, it doesn't feel appropriately significant in any way. My audience gave a huge cheer when Schwarzenegger tore a machine gun off a helicopter to confront a horde of mooks, so a straight action film would likely have been a greater crowd-pleaser. The action we do get in this film is badly shot and often clearly performed by stunt doubles. Oh well. There's always Expendables 3. Escape Plan is released in cinemas today.
Dan Schindel loves movies more than you do. He considers it an accomplishment to have survived a year and counting in Los Angeles. Someday, he'll be the greatest critic in the world. He spent a year watching a documentary every day, so now he knows everything.