Pushing 70, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone are still making movies that people would’ve loved in the 1980s.
Not once do the two aging action stars jokingly poke fun at their oldness during the entirety of ‘Escape Plan’. I expected at least one throwaway line akin to, “I’m getting too old for this shit,” but it never came. Instead, the two muscle-bound seniors throw punches, grimace and provide some of the most unintelligible dialogue since Penelope Cruz was in whatever movie she was in last. The mumblecore action genre has arrived.
Stallone plays Ray Breslin, an expert on all things incarceration. He spends his time undercover, locked up in the country’s maximum security prisons, just so he can break out of them. In a job that probably only exists in the movies, Breslin escapes from prisons for a living and then rubs it in the faces of the wardens in charge. His elaborately crazy escape schemes seem to do little more than showcase his genius, since it’s rather hard to believe many of the inmates in these facilities could concoct such plans in the first place. Nevertheless, Breslin escapes from prison for a living. That’s the gist of the movie. Oh, and 50 Cent takes a role as a genius computer hacker. No, really.
Breslin’s ego gets the best of him when he agrees to be locked away in a CIA black site that the Agency wants to make certain is secure. After agreeing to the assignment, he’s soon whisked off in a black van to a far off prison. There, he meets the sadistic warden – because every single movie and TV show about a prison has to have a sadistic warden – played by Jim Caviezel. Like every other merciless warden throughout cinema, warden Hobbes delights in torturing his prisoners, has a weird eccentricity (his is beautifying dead butterflies), and has a penchant for committing ego-driven mistakes.
For whatever reason, ‘Escape Plan’ is full of familiar faces. Sam Neill shows up as a prison doctor with a conscience, Amy Ryan is the head of Breslin’s team back home (which means she has about three scenes peering over 50 Cent’s shoulder while he types on a computer), and Vinnie Jones is a ruthless prison guards who sneers as well as he punches.
Soon, Breslin teams up with Rottmayer (Schwarzenegger) to break out of the state-of-the-art prison. Only there’s one catch: it’s built to the specifications that Breslin himself wrote in his hot-selling “How to Incarcerate for Dummies” (title may not be correct) book.
I don’t know. The first half of ‘Escape Plan’ is cheesy enough to be fun. Stallone and Arnold trade hardly understandable one-liners as evil Caviezel cackles in the corner. Then the second half pops up, and it trades its pseudo-smart prison escape techno-babble for tried-and-true-and-totally-busted movie clichés. Locks are blown off of doors with one shot from a handgun, protagonists are immune to automatic gunfire, characters turn into dead-eye marksmen only when the plot calls for it, and explosions explode simply because there’s been a complete lack of explosions up until then.
The first part of the movie feels like its vaguely winking at the action movie genre of yesteryear, which is admirable. The second half, however, doesn’t feel ironic at all. So, is the movie winking at the audience or not? I’m not even sure it knows.