Old-School Fun in Jailhouse Crock

By Barker, Andrew | Variety, October 22, 2013 | Go to article overview

Old-School Fun in Jailhouse Crock


Barker, Andrew, Variety


FILM REVIEW

Old-School Fun in Jailhouse Crock

Escape Plan Director: Mikael Hafstrom

Starring: Sylvester Stallone. Arnold Schwarzenegger

Considering the degree to which slavish fan service has come to dominate the development process for genre pics, it's amazing that no one managed to load '80s action gods Sylvester Stallone and Arnold

Schwarzenegger into a true co-starring vehicle until now. With that in mind, the highest compliment one can pay "Escape Plan" is that this prison-break actioner plays much like the kind of film the two might have made in their heyday, albeit with far more scripted downtime for its sexagenarian stars. Mercifully free of tongue-in-cheek meta-humor, "Escape Plan" is a likably lunkheaded meat-and-potatoes brawler that never pretends to be more sophisticated than it is, and though "Expendables"-level B.O. numbers will be out of reach, genre fans and international auds should lap it up.

Looking as slablike as ever, Stallone stars as Ray Breslin, a former lawyer who literally wrote the book on breaking out of prison (paperback copies of his august tome "Compromising Correctional Institutional Security" appear to be popular bedside reading). Employed by an ill-defined agency, Breslin works freelance for the Federal Bureau of Prisons, identifying firsthand the weak spots of penitentiaries by entering them as an undercover inmate and escaping.

Fresh off a nicely staged jailbreak in Colorado, Breslin is hired by a CIA operative for double his usual pay to infiltrate a new, privately funded blacksite facility intended to house "the worst of the worst." Abandoning his usual safety protocols for the gig, Breslin is promptly double-crossed and left to rot in an impressively designed nextgen dungeon straight out of "Demolition Man," with beehives of glass cells and jackbooted guards wearing black Guy Fawkes masks.

To put it delicately, Stallone has never been the type of actor who radiates deep analytical contemplation, and buying him as a sort of juiced-up MacGyver with encyclopedic knowledge of metallurgy, structural engineering and physical oceanography requires considerable indulgence. Fortunately, he's soon joined by Schwarzenegger as a fellow inmate, the gloriously monikered Emil Rottmayer, who cozies up to Breslin with suspicious openness.

While Stallone's deadpan toughguy routine reaches such somnolent levels that a scene in which he's tortured with sleep deprivation causes little discernible change in his demeanor, Schwarzenegger hasn't been this alive onscreen in years. Gifted with all the film's best one-liners ("You hit like a vegetarian") and finally allowed to speak his native German onscreen, the former governor is all wild eyes and mischievous grins. His Rottmayer becomes Breslin's accomplice, and the two sketch out an impossible, yet not totally absurd, plot under the watchful eye of sadistic prison warden/amateur lepidopterist Hobbes (an icy Jim Caviezel).

By the standards of both stars' filmographies, "Escape Plan" reps a relatively low-key iteration of their trademark skull-cracking; fights are limited to punches and judo holds, with nary a throat-ripping or eye-gouging to be seen, and it isn't until the film's final third that our heroes even wield a gun. …

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