Escape Plan, the first full-on screen pairing of Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger, is an Aftertaste Movie – one that offers more satisfaction once you’ve left the theater than while you were watching it. In my case, that satisfaction came from chuckling at the film’s ludicrous choices, which would have been impolite to other moviegoers but is perfectly appropriate in the car on the way home.
Stallone plays Ray Breslin, a brilliant security expert who has made a career out of allowing himself to be treated like an inmate in the world’s most escape-proof prisons, for the sole purpose of breaking out of them. He’s hired by the CIA to take on an ultra-secret holding facility, but this time things are different: This lockup has been designed by people who have studied Breslin’s advice, and built a very, very secure prison. Unlike all the other ones, I suppose. He’s aided and abetted in his escape efforts by another inmate, Rottmayer (Schwarzenegger), who … well, he also wants to escape. That’s how inmates feel about prison, I guess.
Before long we realize that the prison’s corrupt warden (an enjoyably hammy Jim Caviezel) knows who Breslin really is but doesn’t care, as he’s being paid to make sure Breslin stays in this particular prison forever. The reasons for this are never quite made clear, but in the meantime it’s fair to wonder why anyone would think it wise to get rid of a guy who knows how to break out of prisons by putting him in a prison. The same goes for some of the other inmates, who, we learn are similarly there not because they’ve been found guilty of various crimes, but because their former villainous cohorts paid to have them locked up in perpetuity. What’s the world coming to, when movie bad guys don’t want to just kill their enemies any more?
Stallone and Schwarzenegger are by now both much too old to be doing this kind of thing, but Arnold looks like he’s enjoying himself; his Rottmayer has a twinkle in his eye and a playful tone that, while inappropriate to the actual text of the movie, are at least fun to watch. As for Sly … he needs to stop playing characters who are supposed to be clever. After spending nearly 40 years defining himself onscreen by his bicep measurements, it’s too late for a reinvention. He’s simply not credible as a man capable of fashioning a sextant out of eyeglasses and a ballpoint pen. He’s not even credible as a man capable of saying the word “sextant” without giggling.
As a throwback to the mid-’80s action vehicles that made them megastars, Escape Plan is in some ways a gentle, inoffensive comfort; and there are at least two moments in which the audience is allowed to laugh (although only one, I think, was intentional). But that’s a far cry from being a good movie. If you want to watch aging action heroes in their element, try The Expendables – a movie whose title, at least, understands just how throw-away films like this really are.
(IMAGE: Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone in Escape Plan. Photo courtesy of Lionsgate/Summit Entertainment.)