The best comedy bit in Escape Plan, an action movie filled with amazing comedy bits, occurred before a single camera rolled. It happened when someone somewhere said the following and others agreed: “You know what would be a great idea? Casting Sylvester Stallone as a genius escape artist, a man who gets by not just on brawn but on pinpoint smarts? And, for good measure, let’s have Arnold Schwarzenegger play his sidekick.”
The idea that Stallone could possibly, convincingly play an intellectual type isn’t just farfetched. It’s so utterly logic-defying when you consider everything about the man’s image that it comes fully around the bend and starts making a whole lot of sense.
The movie centers on Stallone’s Breslin, who escapes from prisons for a living. Yes, you read that right. He’s planted into a top-top-top-secret, maximum security facility where the inmates live in isolated glass boxes, a sociopathic warden (Jim Caviezel) reigns and the guards sport creepy hollow masks as they gleefully violate prisoners’ rights. Enter Schwarzenegger’s Rottmayer, a fellow inmate, and soon enough the wheels are greased for an elaborate escape, with plenty of time left over for grizzled macho male bonding.
This is all completely ridiculous and sensationally entertaining. Really, how could it not be? You’ve got Stallone and his glorious monotone, Schwarzenegger doling out one-liners and a supporting cast filled with accomplished over actors. You know about Caviezel, who takes enormous bites out of the scenery whenever possible, clearly relishing the chance to play a fastidious psycho. But there’s also Vinnie Jones as a particularly sadistic guard and the immortal Vincent D’Onforio playing Stallone’s sleazy boss with a host of affectations, including constantly rubbing his hands.
Wonderful moments abound: Schwarzenegger mimes a mental breakdown by ranting in German; Sam Neill’s Dr. Kyrie downs pills as he mournfully reflects on the Hippocratic Oath; Sly and Arnold pound the hell out of each other and their fellow inmates, muscles bulging, when they aren’t batting eyes from across a dining hall table. The compound is an impressively designed, technologically-advanced hellscape.
The movie deserves credit in at least one meaningful area: treating the Muslim prisoners seriously, even heroically.
Of course, this isn’t exactly Escape From Alcatraz. For Stallone’s eventual plan to work, you have to accept that the people who built this air-tight, futuristic facility made an incredibly boneheaded mistake. The plot bogs down in a swell of lightning-fast, nonsense revelations. The actor conveys thought the same way he conveys every other emotion and action: straightforward and serious, with the tiniest hint of feeling.
But if you love ’80s action and you’ve been disappointed by Stallone and Schwarzenegger’s other recent attempts to bring back the genre, don’t miss Escape Plan. They’ve finally gotten it exactly right.
The Upside: This is a very entertaining, gloriously silly movie.
The Downside: The plot makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.
On the Side: Director Mikael Håfström has made his share of Hollywood schlock (“1408,” “The Rite”), so he’s an old hat at this business.