And so, as was inevitable, Stallone and Schwarznegger are together again and starring in their trademark (putatively) action flick, ESCAPE PLAN. These titans of trashy genre flicks are not stupid. They know what their fans expect of them, and they are also know what bodies that were in their prime more than two decades ago can, and cant, accomplish in the here and now, even with the help of digital effects. Hence in this mother of all prison escape capers, running,, jumping, jabbing and otherwise leaping about with wild abandon and a high body count has been replaced with a tamer body count, a veritable cornucopia of exposition tarted up with computer graphics, and, for reasons that I confess I fail to fathom, painfully tight close-ups of our stars eyes. As in, count the eyelashes, chart the course of the blood vessels, and marvel at the way any cosmetic work, which may or may not have taken place, has been camouflaged.
The story, a thinly sliced and derivative effort, has Sly and Arnold wrongfully imprisoned by rogue agents of the United States government in a black ops facility that officially doesnt exist. It houses the worst of the worst of the bad guys threatening the peace and well-being of the planet, except for these guys. Respectively Ray, whose well-paid profession is breaking out of maximum security facilities for a big payday, and Rottmayer, an agent of a shadowy Robin Hood-type bent on redistributing the worlds wealth from the rich to the poor. Alas, once Ray accepts the doubled fee, and tosses away all his usual protocols, he finds to his surprise, but no one elses, that he has been set up and if he can find his way out of this black hole, he will be there for life.
Does Ray let this get him down? Of course not. He gets mad. He also recruits Rottmayer, whom, we are told, is brilliant, but able to be talked into almost anything , including physical harm, if Ray politely insists. Its all very silly. Its all very contrived. Its all a great waste of time, though the latter might have been avoided if Sly and company had not resisted pulling out all the stops and making a camp classic along the lines of SHOWGIRLS. But, no, they are dead serious about this, even though at every step along the way, Rays smarts about breaking out of prison have more to do with other peoples stupidity than his own innate cleverness.
If little effort has been expended in crafting a solid script, some has been put into the art direction of the prison, where even the prisoners uniforms eschew the usual bright orange and opt instead for a gray ticking material accented with a stylish black stripe. The better to fit into the industrial inspiration of the glass boxes that house each prisoner amid and atop spidery steel staircases and trestles.
Stallone is Stallone. Letting us know that Ray is a bad-ass by burning a page from the Bible before knifing someone in the yard. He also maintains a vaguely insolent expression throughout, rarely moved to emote beyond grunting in pain when being beaten, or cocking a beautifully sculpted eyebrow during a quip. Schwarzenegger, on the other hand, hams it up, chewing the scenery at will, and particularly in one scene delivered in his native German that makes you wistful for the robotic quality of his Terminator days. This being an action film, each takes a turn at moving quickly, throwing punches, and shooting very big guns, though the shots of them running are captured from a distance, and edited with quick changes of perspective. Make of it what you will.
The supporting characters are more interesting, being the quirky types that are de rigeur in flicks of this nature. Vincent dOnofrio is Rays germ-o- phobic partner with eccentric elocution. Amy Ryan and 50 Cent are curiously bland as the other two executives in the firm. Sam Neill is the enigmatic prison doctor with, surprise, surprise, a drinking problem. Jim Caviezel is the cliché sadistic warden who is also a prissy lepidopterist for a refreshing twist. Vinnie Jones as the sadistic prison guard is Vinnie Jones, and when your Vinnie Jones, thats all you need to be.
ESCAPE PLANs stars are not without vanity. No matter how long they are incarcerated under the most trying of conditions, their manicures are perfect, and their haircuts are immaculate. If only that vanity included making a film that didnt make everyone look like a chump.