'Escape Plan' a buddy action film that could use more characters

Published on Thursday, 24 October 2013 21:20 - Written by By Stewart Smith ssmith@tylerpaper.com

If I were so inclined, I could quite easily start off this review of “Escape Plan” with some groan-inducing pun about how the movie is inescapably dull.

But since I’m a better reviewer than that, I won’t. Because I care about you, the reader.

Sylvester Stallone plays Ray Breslin, a former prosecutor who now makes millions of dollars breaking out of prisons for a living. He’s literally written the book on prison security and hasn’t yet found a facility he couldn’t escape. Until, that is, the CIA comes and asks him to break out of their newest blacksite. However, as soon as he arrives at the facility, it’s obvious that someone doesn’t want him to leave. To get out, he’s going to need the help of Rottmayer (Arnold Schwarzenegger), a fellow inmate.

Despite starring two of action cinema’s biggest icons (who have proven fairly recently that they still have what it takes to carry fun action films) “Escape Plan” commits the mortal sin of being underwhelming. An action movie can be “bad” and yet still be a lot of fun (i.e. many Van Damme films, most of Dolph Lundgren’s oeuvre), but that’s not really what’s being achieved here. The problem is that its stars feel like they’re acting in two different movies.

Stallone’s Breslin is all sneers and po-faced seriousness. He’s constantly examining all the angles, constantly looking for any crack in the system, no matter how small. I can’t quite blame Stallone for playing the character the way he does, that’s how he was written. Schwarzenegger, on the other hand, is clearly having a ball being as hammy and broad as possible. There are plenty of buddy action movies that successfully play character types against each other, but it doesn’t seem that the script was engineered to be executed as such.

Though the more I think about it, the more Stallone’s performance sticks out like a sore thumb. You’ve got so many other actors who are hamming it up that his dour delivery and presence just feel so wrong by contrast. It can’t be emphasized enough how much fun Schwarzenegger is here. Since coming out of retirement he’s had no problem “playing to the crowd,” as it were, and that’s certainly true here (especially in the film’s action finale). He knows precisely the sort of broad fun that fans want/expect out of him and happily delivers that as best he can here.

It’s Jim Caviezel who ends up being the most entertaining as Hobbes, the prison’s warden. A dapper sadist (he runs a blacksite prison and yet is always dressed to the nines), Hobbes goes out of his way to make Breslin’s life a living hell, and in the process Caviezel gives it 100 percent. He doesn’t go full-on Nic Cage or John Travolta nutso, but he does bring his own flavor of wide-eyed crazy that is an absolute hoot to watch.

If more of the movie had been filled with crazy, colorful characters, such as Hobbes and Rottmayer, we might have had something memorably silly. Instead, we’re stuck with a tonally inconsistent film that flounders with far too much exposition and setup until about two-thirds of the way through when Breslin and Rottmayer begin enacting the titular escape plan.

Once things get rolling there the movie becomes at least mildly entertaining. The action is decent and while the plan isn’t nearly as creative or wild as one might hope, it’s fun enough, I suppose. It probably would have worked better had Stallone had a whole crew to work with instead of just one or two other inmates. This is the kind of movie that thrives on personalities, too bad there’s not enough of them here.

What’s frustrating is that director Mikael Håfström at least wants to give the audience what they expect when they come to a Schwarzenegger/Stallone movie. Near the end of the escape, Schwarzenegger gets his hands on a giant machine gun and Håfström smash cuts to a close up of the man’s steely, squinty gaze right before doing what he does best. By which, I mean he waves his machinegun and blows away a near-endless volley of faceless henchmen with stunning efficiency. Håfström knows that’s precisely what we’ve come for and he does his best to deliver when given the chance. You’re just left wanting much more than what can be had.

It’s been interesting watching Stallone and Schwarzenegger these last few years. Stallone has kept steadily working but his output remains as inconsistent as ever. He’s really only as good as the material he works with and the material here is about as weak as it gets. Schwarzenegger, on the other hand, has really tried to make a go of it since coming out of retirement. The material isn’t always strong but the guy clearly still has the desire, drive and charisma to make things work, even if only marginally, in his favor.

Ultimately, though, this will mostly likely be rightly forgotten, nothing less than a footnote. It’s not a bad movie, but it’s hard to recommend it beyond maybe catching the second half of it on cable one lazy afternoon.

Grade: C-