Stallone and Schwarzenegger have made enduring careers out of dumb action films. Proof that charisma, competent directors, and some well-spoken one-liners can go a long way toward enticing audiences to come back for more of the same. Escape Plan, which combines the screen stars in a prison-break flick, is thus set up to be pulpy fun.
Instead, what should be a guilty genre pleasure is undone by illogic and carelessness, as it wastes the talents of its stars and cheats audiences.
Stallone plays Ray Breslin, a guy of unnerving vascularity who makes a lucrative living being sent to maximum security prisons so he can break out of them and reveal their weaknesses. His latest assignment proves to be the toughest yet: being imprisoned in a facility of unknown location, which doesn’t recognize his fail-safe security protocol, and which is out of the reach of his associates. In other words, he’s been set up.
As for the prison, it’s like a reverse Panopticon, one that recalls the transparent cells that held Magneto in the first two X-Men films. Inside, he’s befriended by Emil Rottmayer (Schwarzenegger), a prisoner with some inexplicable sway: A prison with no chance for contraband doesn’t lend itself to a barter economy, but there's Rottmayer, getting the inmates to do his bidding just by barking orders.
For a prison that’s reputedly impossible to break out of, some of its procedures are curiously lax. Cameras are everywhere, but seldom put to good use. Prisoners are allowed to roam, speak freely and are never frisked. The conveniences continue to pile up such that the breakout is more a result of inevitability than ingenuity. Warden Hobbes (an icky, creepy, soft-spoken Jim Caviezel), is a student of Breslin's work, but is oddly lacking in curiosity when Breslin and Rottmayer get into a fight so they can be sent to solitary, and then come out virtually inseparable. The story then trumps that stupidity when Hobbes thinks nothing of sending them back for another stint in solitary, without suspecting or caring that Breslin is up to something. Rottmayer picks up on Breslin’s hyper-attentiveness, but Hobbes, who has studied Breslin’s book on prison security, does nothing to stop his prisoner from learning about his surroundings. Is it a matter of pride, of let the best man win on a level playing field? Could be, if the script were so inclined to back up that notion.
Escape Plan curbs its thrills by making it too easy for Breslin — despite all the beatings and punishment — to have his way, piling on circumstances that work in his favor — a grid of hot lights outside the solitary cells, inconsistent levels of security, and a conflicted doctor (Sam Neill!) with access to the prison’s computer system and the warden’s office. By the time the breakout goes down, we're less impressed by Breslin's planning skills than his luck. When Schwarzenegger gets his big moment, mowing down prison guards in his iconic style, it plays like a rehashed version of a much better original. That said, Arnold and Sly work well together. Particularly if you skip this and stay home for a double feature of Tango & Cash and The Running Man.