‘Escape Plan’ movie review: Stallone and Schwarzenegger pairing big, dumb fun

The novelty value of seeing action icons Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger finally paired together for a full feature (Arnie previously cameoed in Stallone’s Expendables flicks) is the lone redeeming quality of Escape Plan, an otherwise bland and uninspired prison breakout actioner that would be instantly forgotten if not for its cast. 

But the star pairing does pack a punch: Escape Plan might not have much else to recommend it, there’s an undeniable appeal to seeing Sly and Arnold together onscreen. While there’s a short fight scene between them and a team-up against a common enemy, much of the film is light on action; it’s their rapport during the dialogue scenes that provides most of the fun. Go figure.

And refreshingly, Escape Plan is not a complete goof off on the level of Stallone’s Expendables films or Schwarzenegger’s comeback vehicle, The Last Stand. There’s no pretense that this is anything other than it is – both stars are well beyond the point of trying to convince us otherwise – but the wink-wink fan service stuff is kept to a minimum: this is generally a straight-faced B-picture with a good helping of comic relief from Arnie. 

Initial scenes promise a story that, by the finale, Escape Plan has failed to live up to. Stallone plays Ray Breslin, a professional escape artist: he breaks out of prisons for a living to point out security flaws in the system, while the Federal Bureau of Prisons foots the bill. The opening sequence – a ridiculous escape scene, followed by Breslin’s step-by-step breakdown of the breakout for a befuddled warden – is a real doozy.

This is in stark contrast to something like The Next Three Days, which attempted to portray something like a believable breakout. You know how some films seem to be a step-by-step guide for potential criminals? This ain’t one of them.

Still, there’s still a lot of fun to be had in the details of these mad plots. When Breslin goes to the un-escapable, location-unknown “super prison” – cut off from his team – and hooks up with Arnold’s Emil Rottmayer, he begins to craft a MacGyver-like plan that involves using the bare minimum of materials that he has at his disposal: a metal disk, rusty steel bolts, a pair of glasses…

Fun stuff. So it’s especially disappointing when the actual plan relies completely on contrivance, guesswork, and coincidence, and the finale devolves into a typically loud mess of nonsensical action. 

And about the super prison, a facility where super criminals – or whoever – disappear when governments (or anyone else that pays) want to get rid of them: what? This is already highly illegal; who would pay the millions of dollars it takes to keep these men alive every year instead of just killing them off?

Escape Plan is Stallone’s vehicle all the way, but it’s Schwarzenegger who steals the show: as Rottmayer, the one character who adds a light-hearted comic presence to the film, he’s a real hoot. Instead of the self-deprecating wink-wink stuff of The Last Stand, this is classic Arnie one-liner scenery-chewing goodness.

Speaking of chewing scenery, James Caviezel does his best to inject some life into the proceedings as the ruthless, crazy-glint-in-his-eye warden of superjail. Vinnie Jones plays his right-hand man, while an underused Sam Neill is a sympathetic prison doctor. Vincent D’Onofrio, Amy Ryan, and 50 Cent play members of Stallone’s security team, whose roles all feel unnecessary; that is, unless you’ve come to this Stallone-Schwarzenegger movie to watch scenes of 50 Cent behind a computer. 

Escape Plan was directed by Swedish filmmaker Mikael Håfström (working from an inconsistent script by Miles Chapman and Jason Keller), who previously made the underrated ghost story 1408 and the Clive Owen-Jennifer Aniston bomb Derailed. While the film is competently assembled, Håfström doesn’t exactly have a great feel for the genre; the action scenes, which are stuck in a weird limbo between mildly believable and laughably over-the-top, are a particular weak spot.

The Stallone & Schwarzenegger comeback trail is all the rage right now (and get ready for more: each star has multiple films currently in production), but the choice of directors could be more inspired (though Walter Hill was a great pick for Stallone’s Bullet to the Head). I’d love to see some 80s-90s behind-the-camera action icons get back in the game, and I’m sure John McTiernan, Renny Harlin, Jan de Bont, or Andrew Davis could use the work.


Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky has been writing about the Prague film scene and reviewing films in print and online media since 2005. A member of the Online Film Critics Society, you can also catch his musings on life in Prague at expats.cz and tips on mindfulness sourced from ancient principles at MaArtial.com.

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