When I first heard that Arnold Schwarzenegger was going to show up in a cameo role in The Expendables opposite Sylvester Stallone, a small part of me died. The simultaneous awesomeness and ridiculousness of two gargantuan 80s action hero titans showing up together on-screen – alongside Bruce Willis no less – was more than enough to make me rush out to see the film. That tiny scene was probably the most exciting part of an otherwise disappointing effort (their expanded work together in the over-the-top, balls out sequel was infinitely better), yet it still made watching the film totally worth it. Obviously, the idea of bringing the pair together struck a serious chord with someone as we now have a starring vehicle for both of the legendary actors in Escape Plan.
Ray Breslin (Stallone) is an expert in prison security, spending his time incarcerated and being paid to look for the flaws in the system that allow him to break free. Not being one to back down from a challenge, he is hired to break out of a new high-tech, off-the-grid prison. Despite being prepared for anything, Ray is double crossed and left to rot. With no one to turn to and not content with staying in prison forever, he quickly befriends fellow inmate Rottmayer (Schwarzenegger) and the pair begin to devise their escape.
The story sounds incredibly derivative, but I held a small amount of hope for Escape Plan. Unfortunately, it was only a few minutes into the film when I realized that hope was all for nothing. The script, by Miles Chapman and Arnell Jesko, is devoid of anything you might have sprung up from a 80s-inspired action romp. The film runs a near excruciating 116-minutes, and the majority of it is taken up by useless exposition. There is very little humour outside of a few quips scattered throughout and the action scenes are even sparser. It even lacks any real irony or fun; it all just plays out so seriously, despite the ridiculous circumstances that the cast find themselves in. I was frequently bored while watching, waiting patiently for something interesting to happen. And when anything remotely exciting did happen, it was only for a fleeting moment – then right back to monotony.
While the script is a large source of the problem, the bigger issue is Stallone himself. From the moment he first comes on-screen, it is obvious he is not gelling with the material. He looks out of place and genuinely uncomfortable in the majority of scenes, never really emoting or giving the lacklustre material a second thought. His character is supposed to be morose and have hidden demons, but Stallone never gives you a reason to care. I have never been a big fan of his work, but he can be very enthusiastic in the right roles. Here though, he just looks miserable, as if he is slowly realizing his age and the kind of roles he should start leaving behind. I doubt an introspective look was what he was going for, but at least it would make sense based on how he “performs” here.
Rather interestingly, the supporting cast is filled out with many recognizable actors. Sadly, many of them do nothing outside of helping move along the plot. Amy Ryan is supposed to be Stallone’s love interest, but they have less chemistry than he does with Schwarzenegger. Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson plays a computer whiz who helps Breslin, but he makes such a little impact that he easily could have been replaced by anyone – even an inanimate object. That goes double for Sam Neill, who inexplicably shows up as the prison’s doctor. I had hoped there was a reason the filmmakers had cast him for such a throwaway role, but unfortunately, there was not. He has a few lines and scenes, and then vanishes to never be heard from again.
Elsewhere, Vincent D’Onofrio and Vinnie Jones are used very infrequently, but actually do something with their small amount of screen time. The film easily could have used both actors more effectively and perhaps cut the rest of the dead weight, but it totally misses that opportunity.
The brightest supporting player is perhaps Jim Caviezel, who, despite his voice and accent slipping in certain scenes, gives us a very convincing villain and manages to be the most rounded and developed character in the whole film. If that does not speak volumes about the writing of this near horrid movie, then I’m not sure what will.
All that being said, it is Schwarzenegger who rises above everyone, and has a blast doing it. No matter how awful the line or action is, he delivers it with charisma and gravitas. He may be better than the material, but he never forsakes it. He knows what kind of movie he is making, and unlike Stallone, manages to have a great amount of fun while performing. Unfortunately, he doesn’t show up until the second act of the film, but it is obvious that his work is the heart of the movie.
Also of note – Faran Tahir’s lovely performance as fellow convict Javed. It is a great supporting role that is better than practically everyone else. I was also genuinely surprised and impressed by how much emphasis is put on his character’s Muslim heritage, and how respectfully they portray it. It is something so simple, but something that I doubt most filmmakers would even think twice about.
Admittedly, the movie could have been a lot worse, but Escape Plan is still disappointing no matter which way you look at it. While you may get an enjoyable performance from Arnie, you will have to endure a near awful one from Stallone, a string of useless supporting actors and a really silly script that is loaded with plot holes. I guess you just have to ask yourself: is it worth it?
Escape Plan is an action film with no edge, no real thrills and no reason to exist. Skip it, unless you are a diehard Schwarzenegger fan.