“Escape Plan” is the first buddy-action film starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone in lead roles.
It’s about Ray Breslin (Stallone), a specialist who tests maximum-security prisons for weakness. He runs a company, along with partners Lester (Vincent D’Onofrio), Abigail (Amy Ryan) and Hush (50 Cent). When his firm is hired to test out a private ultra-prison, Breslin agrees — only to find himself betrayed and locked in without any emergency contact. To escape, he teams up with fellow inmate Rottmayer (Schwarzenegger), an associate of the mysterious international crime lord Mannheim. Together, Breslin and Rottmayer must outwit the sadistic warden Hobbs (Jim Caviezel) and escape to freedom.
It’s exactly what you’d expect.
But then, if that’s all I told you in this review, I guess I’d be giving you exactly what you expect from my review.
So here are a few things I didn’t expect going into “Escape Plan.”
First, I didn’t expect to enjoy it quite as much as I did. That’s largely due to the general mis-casting. There’s a reason I felt it necessary to list D’Onofrio, Ryan and 50 Cent at the top, despite their relatively limited screen time; they’re just all either awful, bizarre or really, really awful. It’s a spectacle to watch. Who in the world decided to cast Amy Ryan as the love interest for Sylvester Stallone? Why is 50 Cent a computer wiz? Why the hell does D’Onofrio have a nervous tic involving hand sanitizer? You might as well watch the movie on Netflix in a few months if only to marvel at these odd creative decisions.
The minor roles are one thing. Jim Caviezel deserves his own paragraph. Playing up the Bond villain role, he seems to misunderstand the necessary subtlety of a nervous tic in almost every scene he’s in. His facial expressions fly all over the place! That’s not to mention his little sarcastic asides to everything (whispered little “Who cares?” and the like) are overacted to an amazing degree. The only villain I’ve seen worse in regards to horrible acting was Sebastian Koch in “A Good Day to Die Hard,” whose tendency to chomp a carrot loudly during exposition is possibly my favorite horrible thing ever.
I guess I sound negative. Fear not: The two lead actors, who you’re surely seeing the film for, bring whatever goods they have left. Sure, they’re old, and their action scenes involve minimal movement. Sure, Stallone’s face looks like he kept the same expression too long and it stayed that way. Sure, almost every major “Awwww, yeah” beat is a retread of something they originally did 30 years ago. But Stallone and Schwarzenegger have magnificent chemistry, like two action figures meant to click together and form one big action figure.
And come on, guys. Schwarzenegger hasn’t lost any of his wry charm.
The second reason I enjoyed the film so much is because for an American action film about the 1980s’ two greatest heroes finally teaming up, it treated the Muslim characters magnificently well. I’m used to watching junky action films treat minorities or foreigners as villains, even if only by making the main villain Russian or German or simply accented in a “foreign” way. In “Escape Plan,” Faran Tahir plays Javed, the leader of the Tomb’s Muslim sect. Javed’s faith isn’t used in a token way but actually plays a key role in Breslin’s escape plan. It’s probably the most clever aspect of the script. Not only that, but Javed receives the most heroic moments of the film as well. It’s the first time, I think, that I’ve heard “Allahu Akbar” used heroically, with no violent connotation.
It was SO REFRESHING.
“Escape Plan” isn’t amazing entertainment. It’s pretty by-the-numbers and a tad boring. If you want to see Stallone and Schwarzenegger team up, by all means, it’s exactly what you want. You won’t be let down by the two of them, and the supporting cast and shocking amount of cultural open-mindedness are an added bonus.