“Escape Plan” marks the first time that veteran action film actors Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger have teamed up on screen.
If it were released 25 years ago, it would have been a colossal entertainment event and Sly and Arnie would have had their faces on the covers of People, Entertainment Weekly and US Weekly, as well as meriting a week’s worth of stories on “Entertainment Tonight.” In 2013, however, the media reaction was far more muted, bordering on a collective shrug.
Major movie studios such as Fox, Warner Brothers, Paramount, Sony, and Disney used to routinely compete to have either of these two guys be the lead in a film. But no longer. “Escape Plan” was released through the far smaller Summit Entertainment, a subsidiary of Lionsgate Films.
Granted, ageism is an old story in the entertainment industry and both Stallone and Schwarzenegger are over 65. Both guys have made their share of awful films when it was clear that they were in it only for a fat paycheck. Stallone probably has made more turkeys than Schwarzenegger, but that is probably only because the latter took an eight-year sabbatical serving as the governor of California.
Perhaps I set the bar too low before seeing “Escape Plan,” but it’s a far better film than nearly anyone could have reasonably expected.
Ray Breslin (Stallone) is an outside consultant whose special talent is to find the flaws in even the most secure prison. The work is not glamorous but it’s lucrative. Ray’s modus operandi is to go undercover as a prisoner and find the imperfections, from prison guards whose routines are too predictable to flaws in the physical structures of the cellblocks. He then makes Houdini-like escapes.
One day a mysterious woman claiming to be from a secret government agency arrives at Ray’s posh LA office with a check for $5 million for him if he’ll agree to test a top-secret facility. Because of the alleged sensitive nature of the matter Ray will not be allowed to be traced by his support team, Abby (Flushing native Amy Ryan) and Hush (Queens’ own Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson). Despite their objections, Ray loves a lucrative challenge and accepts the terms.
It doesn’t take long for Breslin to realize he has been set up and is in over his head as he’s drugged and put on a plane. When he comes to his senses, he finds himself being “welcomed” by the nattily attired and sadistic warden, Hobbes (Jim Caviezel from CBS’s terrific hit suspense series, “Person of Interest”). Hobbes knows Ray’s real identity and his purpose for being there but he is being compensated handsomely by an unnamed party who wants him to rot there for the rest of his life.
Breslin quickly finds that he has an ally in a fellow prisoner, Emil Rottmayer (Schwarzenegger). It is apparent to Ray that the strong but cerebral Rottmayer is not a dangerous criminal worthy of this kind of maximum fortress but rather a political prisoner.
“Escape Plan” is in many ways a homage to the prison films that have come before it, such as “The Longest Yard” and “Escape from Alcatraz.” Caviezel, who always plays characters who are economical with their words, makes the steely Hobbes, who gets off a fair share of good one-liners here, a character you love to hate.
What is somewhat surprising is the rather liberal bent of the film, since both Stallone and Schwarzenegger are well-known Republicans though neither man is a likely guest speaker at a Tea Party rally. The prison in the film that houses their characters is run by private industry and is not even on the government grid because it is (spoiler alert!) located on a ship in international waters. Who would have thought that two of Hollywood’s longtime tough guys would be warning about the dangers of privatizing prisons?
The film’s major flaw is that there are too many plot twists that the screenwriters attempt to get untangled in the final minutes. Those seem to have been done as afterthoughts. Nonetheless, the action is first-rate and the time passes very quickly. While stuntmen are employed, both Stallone and Schwarzenegger handled a good deal of the heavy lifting. It was reported that Sly needed 70 stitches to patch up a gash in his foot during the shooting.
“Escape Plan” is one of the better cinema surprises of the year.