Escape Plan is the newest film that tries to turn up the '80s nostalgia. It brings together Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone for a prison escape movie that manages to be a mildly entertaining call-back to the fun actioners of a bygone era, but it never manages to achieve anything beyond that.
Stallone plays Ray Breslin, a man who specializes in breaking out of the country's toughest prisons, always seeming to have a thick deck of Deus ex Machinas on hand whenever he needs to devise an escape attempt. Ray is approached for one last job, to break out of a secret, high tech facility called "The Tomb," which has been deemed impossible to escape from. Even though everything about the offer feels as shady as can be, Breslin agrees but quickly finds that someone is interested in keeping him locked up for good. He then enlists fellow inmate Emil Rottmayer (Schwarzenegger) to help him plan the impossible escape.
Stallone is a serviceable lead but he's surrounded by a cast that seems to be having a lot more fun than he is, including Schwarzenegger, who plays inmate Rottmayer with fun sense of sarcasm and the glut of the film's best one-liners. Jim Caviezel also impresses as warden Hobbs, a quirkily evil man in a finely crafted suit. He possesses the menacing charm of a man who has all aspects of his life under expertly tailored control. This is his castle and he dares you to break out of it. Stallone's seemingly encyclopedic knowledge of every single fact in existence leads to an escape attempt that is somehow preposterous and predictable at the same time. Months of planning lead up to an escape attempt that you could have thought of in about five minutes, but that you wouldn't ever try it because you'd get caught right away. We've definitely seen it before, but that's not necessarily a terrible thing. The film still manages to be entertaining thanks to the cast.
Escape Plan manages to outdo other films like The Expendables by keeping its focus small. It centers around two main characters, and feels less contrived and manufactured than The Expendables, which just gathered up as many aging action stars and wrote the thin wisps of a plot to hold itself together in a bloated mess of adrenaline. Escape Plan feels more like a movie than a publicity stunt and it actually emulates a decent blood-soaked product of the Reagan era - for better or worse.
But Escape Plan could never be great movie because its ambitions are aimed too low. It simply wants to emulate the great 80's action movies and do nothing more. While it feels like a somewhat close recreation, cinema has moved on a long time ago. The film doesn't try to turn the genre on its head, or do anything other than copy what came before it.
There are moments where the film excites and thrills, but those moments are mostly callbacks to older and better movies, where the actors were younger, and could carry off the action more convincingly. This also begs the question of just how old are we supposed to think the two leads are?
Everyone's age is showing, and with each cinematic romp through 80's action cliches, it becomes a little less believable that these guys could perform the kinds of action scenes were supposed to believe they're preforming. Stallone's gait looks stiff and ragged, and it is at times impossible to believe that Arnold is a prison tough guy that can dispatch dozens of muscle-bound criminals without breaking a sweat. The suspension of disbelief is stretched paper-thin; instead of feeling like a triumphant return to the past, which it only manages to be at points, Escape Plan feels like a showcase of actors well past their prime struggling to hold on to the poses and personas that made them famous as their bodies slowly betray them.
The best aspect of Escape Plan is that it's a horrendously stupid movie that knows just how horrendously stupid it is, and it revels in that fact. It follows every tenet of dumb action movie logic to a T, but it does so with confidence and cheek. Even as you're sitting three steps ahead of the movie, you're waiting for it to catch up with a slight nostalgic smile, rather than sitting there bored. The problem is that it never becomes anything more than a traced copy of what came before it. The two aging leads bring everything they have to the table, but everything they have is looking weathered and starting to fray at the edges.