ESCAPE PLAN (2013) – REVIEW

The original title for director Mickael Hafstrom’s follow-up to his mediocre The Rite was “The Tomb”; a reference to the inescapable prison in which most of the drama takes place.  Whatever reason they had for changing such an intriguing and ominous title to something so boringly on the nose isn’t good enough, but thankfully the film itself seems (at least mostly) un-affected.  Once more bringing together two of action cinema’s biggest stars, the two S’s play inmates trapped in a maze-like fortress of incarceration who team up to attempt an escape, always under the watchful eye of the evil, vigilant warden Hobbes (in an excellent turn by Jim Caviezel).  The difference with Stallone and Schwarzenegger together on-screen this time, however, is that we don’t just get a big, dumb body count action movie like The Expendables; there’s actually some substance and complexity to this.

Not to say we’re in new territory by any means.  The film has a lot of fun playing with stuff we’ve seen before, opening right into Mission: Impossible territory with Stallone’s Breslin detailing his escape from a state penitentiary through Batman-esque schematics and tense, serious breakout music, then as we move into the later stages of the first act the film basically becomes Escape From Alcatraz on steroids as Breslin and inmate buddy Rottmayer scout for weaknesses within the complex.  But, while we’ve seen much of this before and there is all that usual cheesy one-liner stuff from the former Rocky and Terminator, there is actually some surprisingly interesting stuff weaved throughout.

The script does a good job of keeping things just complex enough to make us have to do a bit of work while also maintaining a decent level of excitement and humour, but it often doesn’t do itself any favours.  When it’s not being funny and light it’s obsessed with getting really serious and urgent, egged on by the austere soundtrack, and the two don’t quite bounce off each other very well.  It also runs into the problem of having too much to wrap up in the last few minutes and subsequently ends up tripping over itself, and that awful end joke needed to be scrapped way back in the first draft.  In the end, though, I felt the pros outweighed the cons.

It was just nice seeing Stallone and Schwarzenegger in a big movie without them feeling the need to blow stuff up every few minutes.  In most scenes they actually discuss things with their heads instead of their fists (although not entirely) and do some proper acting.  Of course, it does descend into unnecessarily loud shoot-em-up territory in the third act, but it just about gets away with it because of well restrained it is up until that point.  You get the sense that they were really buzzing to just get into some action, and when that point comes we don’t really mind because they’ve eaten all their vegetables.

Filling out the roles around the two main players we get the aforementioned excellent Jim Caviezel, who plays that slimy, smug guy so well, and other interesting (practically un-billed) names like Vinnie Jones and Sam Neill.  Jones is doing nothing new in his crazy tough guy get-up, and Sam Neill is his usual reliable self in a small but important role.  50 Cent must stick to the rapping.

Escape Plan is generally good fun, and while it’s hardly the smartest film of the year it’s certainly a lot more interesting that I expected.  If we can see more of this Stallone and Schwarzenegger in between sometimes fun but generally faff stuff like The Expendables, we’ll be content.

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆