October 18, 2013

Movie review: Escape Plan

By Carl Kozlowski *

Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger once strode the earth as the twin Tyrannosaurus Rexes of the 1980s movies, challenging each other for the box office crown in a series of non-stop action movies that were invariably blockbusters. But just as the real dinosaurs eventually fell extinct, these two action icons fell victim to changing times as moviegoers eventually decided they’d rather watch more sensitive heroes that Arnold would have derided as “girlymen.”

Their demise at the box office deprived fans of ever seeing the titans from clashing onscreen during their prime, but in 2010, Stallone pulled off the once-unthinkable task of luring then-California governor Schwarzenegger back to the big screen for a cameo in “The Expendables.” That movie and its sequel (which had a much bigger role for the Governator) proved to be a hit, creating a stairway to action-fan heaven with this weekend’s release of the new movie “Escape Plan.”

That title is a bold choice for a movie featuring two guys whose movies often inspired critical derision, as it could have easily spawned reviews stating things like “audiences will be wishing they had an ‘Escape Plan’ from the theater.” But I’m happy to report that while the movie has a few plot holes big enough to drive one of Arnold’s beloved Hummers through, it’s got plenty of great action, a way better than expected premise and that the big guys are having just as big a blast as audiences will while watching them.

The story follows Stallone as Ray Breslin, the world’s leading authority on prisons, who gets paid millions by the US government to point out the defects in prisons by breaking out of them after being placed inside under false criminal identities. But when a mysterious woman shows up offering him $5 million – twice his normal fee – to test a top-secret prison that houses criminals and terrorists who are so dangerous they aren’t even offered trials, he agrees to enter “The Tomb” against the advice of his business partners (played by Amy Ryan and rap star Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson).

Ray quickly finds that the mission is a horrible setup when the clients who are supposed to pick him up peacefully instead taser and drug him into unconsciousness before dropping him into the prison. To compound the problem, he finds that The Tomb is run by an entirely different warden than he was promised. That means he no longer has an inside man willing to release him in case of emergency, but rather a well-dressed sadist named Hobbes (Jim Caviezel) who acts like a humorless version of Dr. Evil from the “Austin Powers” movies.

It turns out that someone wants Breslin locked away forever, and the only way he can get out is by agreeing to help Hobbes find out where the world’s top financial criminal is hiding. Hobbes thinks that Breslin can only get the info by tricking information out of a fellow prisoner named Emil Rottmayer (Schwarzenegger), but the warden is unaware that Breslin and Rottmayer have already befriended each other and hatched a secret plan to pull off the greatest escape ever and that Hobbes’ offer of trading Breslin’s release for information is playing right into their hands.

Thus, the pieces are in place for a surprisingly complex plot that on the surface is far more impressive than the ones found in the often-ridiculous movies that made its stars famous in their heydays.  In fact, the movie has one doozy of a central plot twist when Breslin figures out exactly what and where The Tomb is. It is a fun and well-played shocker of a moment.

Add in the fact that director Mikael Hafstrom (who last made the Anthony Hopkins exorcism thriller “The Rite”) uses flashy computer graphics to explain the layout of the prison and knows how to keep the pace popping, and “Escape Plan” is enough of a sensory treat to satisfy action fans and anyone looking for big dumb fun at the theater. The problem is that if you think too hard about the details and especially the final twist – which is supposed to be a huge surprise but instead will leave viewers scoffing at the fact it makes no sense – it doesn’t hold up as well.

But who ever went to a Stallone or Schwarzenegger movie for coherent plotting – or even coherent dialogue readings – anyway? The whole point is to see two superhuman guys square off and then team up, and they do that in fully fun fashion.  It’s great to see them together onscreen and if you’re an action-movie fan, it’s best to check these old guys out now before they realize it’s time to retire.

While there are a few relatively brief scenes of guards beating prisoners – including our heroes – in nasty fashion and a scene in which guards subject Schwarzenegger to an experience that makes waterboarding feel like a relaxing bath, “Escape Plan” keeps the action rolling without being excessively graphic and bloody. And while there is foul language including a fair amount of F-bombs detonated throughout the movie, those words are limited enough to avoid being really offensive in the context of this kind of movie. After all, we are watching the world’s toughest criminals inside the world’s worst prison.

You already know if “Escape Plan” is your kind of movie or not. If it is, and you’re the age of 17 and above as the R rating requires, you’ll find it to be decent-quality escapism indeed.

Carl Kozlowski has been a professional film critic and essayist for the past five years at Pasadena Weekly, in addition to the Christian movie site Movieguide.org, the conservative pop culture site Breitbart.coms Big Hollywood, the Christian pop culture magazine Relevant and New City newspaper in Chicago. He also writes in-depth celebrity interviews for Esquire.com and The Progressive. He is owner of the podcasting site www.radiotitans.com, which was named one of the Frontier Fifty in 2013 as one of the 50 best talk-radio outlets in the nation by www.talkers.com and will be relaunching it in January 2014 after a five-month sabbatical. He lives in Los Angeles.

* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.


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