While Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone have shared the silver screen before, in the Expendables movies and sort of in Last Action Hero (Sly appears on a poster there), Escape Plan is the first film in which they are the two leads. It’s something a lot of people have been waiting to see since the 80’s, and really it should have been made back then as it would surely have been a massive hit. But sadly the two of them were not on friendly terms back then and thus it’s only now that this film is happening. It’s already flopped in the U.S. but is on its way to become a minor hit outside the U.S. (having already made more money in China alone, in one week).
But the big question is, was it worth the wait?
In brief, and surprisingly enough, the answer is yes.
The premise is simple enough: Stallone plays a man whose job is to break out of prisons, to test their security levels. But now he’s been put somewhere he’s not supposed to get out of. Of course, he’s got a plan and gets help from a fellow inmate, played by Schwarzenegger.
It’s a simple premise and Escape Plan is a rather simple film, but within its limits it does the trick and succeeds at what it sets out to do: To be a big, dumb, fun action flick.
For one thing director Mikael Håfström (along with Sly and Arnie of course) manages to nail just the right tone here as the film takes itself only moderately seriously. It’s rarely too silly but it also doesn’t get overtly dramatic or serious. It’s a no-bullshit kind of movie that gets down to business and doesn’t waste too much time on unimportant things. Sly gets some back story but mostly we get to know his character through his actions; plot and character are developed simultaneously. The same applies for Arnie except we get even less backstory. At the very least they’re playing actual characters who mostly have to think their way out of trouble rather than shoot everything up.
The rest of the characters are largely just plot devices. But that’s okay as it doesn’t really matter. People watch this movie to see Sly and Arnie do their thing and that’s the main focus throughout.
Aside from tone and pacing Hafström also does a good job with the visuals as Escape Plan is a nicely shot and edited movie with many striking images (the glass-cage prison looks very cool). The editing is as fast as it needs to be, the story flows well and the framing is often cool. It’s not exactly artfully done or anything but it’s a little bit more than just a solid workman job, though it sometimes gets generic (also, can’t someone make a movie like this in which the good guys are not always perfect marksmen while the baddies can’t shoot for shit?).
Escape Plan can be described as a dumb film that’s also kinda smart. It’s highly improbable but never ridiculous. The story is not (always) too predictable and it keeps you on edge, guessing what happens next. Much of the plot does rely on coincidence and incredibly perfect timing but the filmmakers do a good job of not boring you so don’t start thinking too hard about most of the details, and within their limits many of them kind of make sense. In a movie like this that’s a miracle of sorts.
This film gives you all the exposition you need but never really dwells on anything. Sly’s backstory has something do with his wife and kid and it’s never clear but it doesn’t matter anyway. He’s a guy with a sad past, what more do you need? All that matters is if he gets out of the prison or not. It’s nice to see a dumb Hollywood action flick that doesn’t overexplain everything, for once.
It also helps that the film is full of weird and funny shit like Arnold speaking German, for the first time in a Hollywood film (he recites the lord’s prayer *and* quotes Nietzsche) and saying that Sly hits “like a vegetarian”. Arnie is the comic relief here, as he’s kind of always been, and makes a nice counterpoint to Sly’s more serious character (though not too serious). This film makes just the right use of the two of them, they’re limited actors but can work really well within those limits and the film doesn’t allow them to go beyond them.
The film also has a fine supporting cast with the standout being Jim Caviezel as the sleazy, and somewhat perverse, prison warden. He’s suitably nasty without going over the top and his line readings are often funny in an enjoyably weird way. There’s also 50 Cent as a computer geek (he’s not bad), the always reliable Vincent D’Onofrio as Sly’s germophobe boss and Filmophilia favorite Sam Neill as the prison doctor. Nice!
Final Verdict: While it’s not exactly a classic, Escape Plan is overall a pretty solid genre flick and worthy team-up of Sly and Arnie, who have great chemistry together. It can be described as a dumb action movie that’s also kinda smart as it does the job with a no-bullshit approach and sticks to what matters. In short: Good, dumb fun.