“Escape Plan,” written by Miles Chapman (story and screenplay) and Jason Keller (screenplay), directed by Mikael Hafstrom, 115 minutes, rated R.
It’s 2013, and somehow there’s a movie currently in theaters starring both Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger. And it’s not called “The Expendables. Or “The Expendables 2.”
… Or “The Expendables 3.”
The film is called “Escape Plan,” starring Stallone as Ray Breslin, a professional jail-breaker who is contracted by the Federal Bureau of Prisons to test maximum security facilities. They put Breslin behind bars, and he finds the gaps in the system, using limited tools such as wads of toilet paper and chocolate milk cartons a la MacGyver, to spring himself free.
He has a business partner, Lester Clark (Vincent D’Onofrio, who hams it up), who handles the money while Breslin does the dirty work. Also part of the team is a technology expert named Hush (Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson) and Abigail (Amy Ryan), whose specialty is never really defined.
After another one of Breslin’s successful, cunning escapes, the team is approached by CIA agent Jessica Miller (Caitriona Balfe) for a job worth $5 million. The problem is that the facility in question is a highly illegal, immoral Gitmo-style fortress holding international criminals with whom countries don’t want to deal. It also has been built based on Breslin’s own book. In other words, no one can break out of it.
Against the advice of Hush and Abigail, Breslin reluctantly agrees to the deal, under the condition that he has a code in case things go wrong. But before he even enters the prison, things go wrong, as Breslin is abducted in an unmarked van, drugged and taken as a common prisoner without any of the requested safety provisions, and without any knowledge of his location. There’s no question about it, Ray Breslin has been set up.
While at the facility, he befriends Emil Rottmayer (Schwarzenegger), and together, the two begin to explore their limited options for escape, forming an alliance against the iron fist of the institution’s warden, Hobbes (an odd and entertaining Jim Caviezel).
Before getting to the heart of “Escape Plan” – its two stars – I’d be hard-pressed not to mention that director Mikael Hafstrom makes the most of this situation, as he has in past films such as “The Rite.” In between the preposterous loopholes in the prison system and Stallone and Schwarzenegger’s wisecracking, Hafstrom creates an elaborate, strangely open-concept jail where inmates are confined in stacked-up glass cubes like bugs captured for the amusement of some young boy. With the guards dressed in black from head to toe, faces hidden under simple Halloween masks, the atmosphere Hafstrom creates will bring to mind ’80s sci-fi cinema.
But ultimately watching Stallone and Schwarzenegger play off one another just feels unnatural. There’s humor in their interaction, some of which is deliberate, much of which is not. It’s a paradox: The casting of these two hall-of-fame action stars past their prime gives “Escape Plan” much of its character, yet it also sets some serious limitations. In that sense, I’d be hard-pressed to recommend “Escape Plan” to anyone other than die-hard ’80s and ’90s action fans.