It must have seemed enough just to have both Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger on the poster. For many film goers, these two kings of 1980's action cinema would be more than enough reason to buy a ticket for Escape Plan. And I think fans of films like Cobra and The Running Man will like what they see. However, I lean more towards a Rocky or a Total Recall, which is precisely why I didn't have as much fun with Escape Plan.
Ray Breslin (Stallone) is an escape artist, hired by penitentiaries and prisons to test their security systems. They place him inside the prison population with an assumed identity and Breslin must escape, thus exposing the flaws in the security system. Interesting premise, I'll admit.
But wait... I'm sure there are easier ways to investigate that kind of thing without resorting to tricking the prison staff into participating in an ultra-violent, bizarre-o episode of Undercover Boss. Wouldn't it be easier to bring in Breslin with security escorts and just have him survey the building? Why must he pretend to be an inmate?
Oh, cuz it's a movie, right? Sorry about that.
The film's key demographic will enjoy. I have no trouble admitting that the preview audience with whom I watched Escape Plan were quite vocal about their enjoyment. They clapped, they cheered, they even threw out Arnold impersonations. They unabashedly loved every minute. (Not a word of embellishment. All of that really happened, mid-screening.)
Lest I come across like a snobby wet blanket, I sat there wishing that I too was having that amount of fun. I like action movies!!!
(Oh dear, has it really come to this? "...I like action movies!!!")
One day, Breslin gets a very big offer: Break out of a top secret super-prison for a whooping $5 million pay check. His co-workers, played by The Wire's Amy Ryan and Hip Hop's 50 Cent have a bad feeling about this one. But Breslin brushes them off and takes the job. In the super-prison, he meets Emil (Schwarzenegger) and the two become reluctant partners in the escape.
The tough thing about this genre is the suspense. To explain, with this premise and these two movie stars, the filmmakers have to work very hard to make the audience believe that these muscle bound actors are not going to be able to escape in the end. That is where the suspense would come in, if this was a film made by Hitchcock or even Brian De Palma.
But in Escape Plan, no matter what obstacles the screenwriters throw at our heroes, you never think even for a second: "Oh no! These guys ain't gonna make it outta here!"
Shockingly, it's Schwarzenegger who gives the best performance in the film. In particular, the moment where he toggles from speaking English to speaking German was a stroke of genius. Frankly, it's the best acting I have ever seen from Arnold. He truly has range as an actor that most directors cannot seem to inspire. He could be a wonderfully villainous character actor, if he could just ditch the movie star accoutrement.
Escape Plan is not a bad movie. It's a redundant movie, an unnecessary one. Director Mikael Håfström (the underrated horror flick, 1408) acquits himself admirably with this B-movie material, delivering a totally watchable, cheesy thrill ride. Everyone who worked on this film is incredibly talented and has done exceptional work in the past (and I'm sure will in the future, as well). If you're in the mood for an 80's action movie, perhaps you'll enjoy Escape Plan. Perhaps...
But if you're really in the mood for that aforementioned 80's action flick, I think you would be better off watching one that was actually made in the 1980's.
Tony Hinds is a Canadian writer who studied film at the University of Winnipeg. In addition to ShowbizMonkeys.com, Tony has reviewed films for Step On Magazine and The Uniter. You can find Tony on Twitter.