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Escape Plan easily could have been produced around 1986 or ‘87, sandwiched on a studio’s release schedule between signature Schwarzenegger and Stallone genre experiments as Predator, Cobra or The Running Man.
That’s meant as high compliment. There’s more tread on the 2013 versions of our macho leading men, for sure. But Sly and Arnold’s unquestionably valuable storytelling skills – their adventurous spirit, their bone-crunching bloodlust, and their crowd-pleasing ability to squeeze just enough entertainment out of a comically shallow plot concept – haven’t aged a bit.
As mentioned, there’s a clever, single-note logline driving Escape Plan, and it goes something like this: Ray Breslin (Stallone) is the best there is at breaking out of prisons. Hired by executives to test the vulnerabilities of specific structures, Breslin enters select jails as a “convict,” studies the guard patterns and system weaknesses, then collects millions once he reaches sweet freedom.
As Plan gets underway, Breslin’s offered a lucrative, mysterious gig. The CIA wants him to test a top-secret prison nicknamed The Tomb (which, at one point, was the better title for this movie), but Breslin's partners – who include Vincent D’Onofrio, Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson and the always amazing Amy Ryan – can’t know where Ray is or how long he’ll be forced to stay. Despite the fact that those stipulations go against his company’s usually strict protocol, Breslin accepts the challenge, and it’s off to The Tomb we go.
Even if you haven’t seen an Escape Plan commercial or trailer, it’s pretty clear that Breslin’s walking into a trap … and also that he’s going to have help on the inside. Arnold Schwarzenegger appears in the film’s second act as Emil Rottmayer, a life-long convict and the “Big Dog” in prison who’s supposed to put Breslin in his place. It’s not long before these seasoned underdogs are working together, however, against a more obvious antagonist (whose identity I’ll protect so as to preserve your viewing experience).
In another lifetime, Arnold’s reveal in Escape Plan would be epic. Stallone and Schwarzenegger IN THE SAME MOVIE?! But the novelty of their pairing has been diluted by too many Planet Hollywood launchings and disappointing Expendables installments. Today, seeing Stallone on screen with Schwarzenegger is equivalent to seeing Laverne with Shirley, or Larry with Moe and Curly.
But Escape Plan’s calling card isn’t limited to the celebrated pairing of recognizable (yet past-their-prime) action stars. It one-ups the stunt-casting nature of a rote Expendables sequel and remembers to deliver giddy, bloody, movie-exaggerated action in an engagingly ludicrous environment. Swedish director Mikael Hafstrom (The Rite) brings an economy to Escape Plan that helps keep the ball rolling, whether he’s dealing with exposition or explosions. And production designer Barry Chusid constructs a sleek mousetrap of a futuristic prison that’s consistently fun to explore with our contained heroes (even if the film telegraphs the facility’s “mysterious” location earlier than expected).
Stallone and Schwarzenegger remain at interesting crossroads in their evolving careers. Long past having to prove themselves as bankable screen icons, they largely fall back on the reputations of beloved characters in their arsenals. Stallone did a Rambo movie as recently as 2008. The upcoming Grudge Match is little more than “Rocky meets Raging Bull.” And Schwarzenegger’s name continues to swirl around Terminator reboot rumors. It’s too bad. Despite its faults, Escape Plan whips up enough nostalgic fun from two hard-hitting action heroes who haven’t completely forgotten how to hammer an audience with gratuitous thrills, and I wish more throwbacks like this were part of Sly and Arnold’s collective plan.