By Sean Czarnecki, Daily Film Editor
Published October 22, 2013
The pretentious moviegoer would say the most pain Arnold Schwarzenegger (“The Terminator”) and Sylvester Stallone (“Rocky”) ever bruise up in “Escape Plan” is inflicted on the audience. Yeah, they put the hurt on your wallet. A word of advice: Leave your brain behind watching this troglodyte drivel.
At Quality 16 and Rave
More like this
Those moviegoers miss what a joy it is to watch this tag team for the ages slug it out. For “Escape Plan” is a movie about heroes. It’s nostalgic. It’s thrilling and funny. It brings the enormous weight of two historic careers to the screen with the gusto of 1980s popcorn cinema.
Stallone is Ray Breslin, a prison-break expert, who is assigned a new job in an undisclosed location, who is double-crossed, who befriends another head-knocker named Emil Rottmayer (Arnie) and together they try to escape.
Some may stigmatize “Escape Plan” by calling it simpleton-minded. I call it purity. These are not Nolan-esque tortured souls (however compelling those can be). These are giants hewn from gun-metal steel that operate on a single speed. They walk big, they talk big, they smash.
Explosions and fistfights only carry an actioner so far before it starts to look like you’re compensating. For me, the watchability of hyper-machismo fades fast each year. Pin it on the political climate. Pin it on progress. But what bad actioners lack are leading actors possessing the charisma of a Schwarzenegger or Stallone.
When Schwarzenegger picks up a machine gun, the audience flashes back through “Terminator,” through “Predator” and so many other classics, and the theater erupts in applause and laughter. Who else but the Ah-nold could make something so macho-mugging and prepubescent this hilarious and fun? Schwarzenegger stole this movie.
It’s just unfortunate all the intellectual heavy-lifting of “Escape Plan” ’s overly complicated plot should be done by these two linguists. Together, they’ve practically redefined what qualifies as speaking English. But the real problem are the contrivances of the screenplay, written by relative-newcomer Miles Chapman and Jason Keller (“Machine Gun Preacher”). Many characters’ motives are unclear, their involvement tenuous at best, and other characters superfluous.
Take 50 Cent’s character (“Get Rich or Die Tryin’ ”), Hush. Almost all his lines, however few, involve some sort of mumbled four-letter word that sounds surprisingly fake, considering the rapper’s career. The film would’ve literally turned out the way it did with or without him. Even Stallone’s love interest (Amy Ryan, “Gone Baby Gone”) could’ve been crossed off. It’s a bad sign the story and characters distract you from the movie.
But Chapman and Keller managed to craft a convincing villain in Willard Hobbs, played by Jim Caviezel, whom you know best as Jesus (“The Passion of the Christ”). He’s a clean, suited psychopath with the sole life goal of control and cruelty. At times, Caviezel’s performance borders self-parody, but overall his contribution to the film is a fine asset. As for his minions, I’m still turning over why the hell Blackwater dropouts are dressed like Jabbawockeez.
When Stallone and Schwarzenegger turn these trick-or-treaters into pudding, “Escape Plan” barely misses a step. It dazzles us with violence when it’s supposed to. It makes us laugh when it tries to be funny. It’s solid moviemaking if you have the good nature to be entertained by old-fashioned brawling and wry humor.