The godfathers of testosterone-fuelled old school action cinema are back to show the young pretenders how they did it in the 80s in this infectiously entertaining slice of nonsense.
It may not carry the same dramatic heft as the famous scene in Heat when Robert De Niro and Al Pacino finally appeared together, but watching the iconic Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone trading one-liners and wielding big guns has its own guilty pleasure.
This may not be the first movie where they’ve shared screen time – that came in truncated form in The Expendables and its forgettable sequel – but Escape Plan has the bragging rights of being the first time these two former enemies-turned best buddies have shared top billing.
Stallone plays Ray Breslin, a security expert who tests the reliability of prisons by breaking out of them. He’s offered a challenge (and a big payday) he can’t resist; namely to escape from a top-secret, ultra-secure jail called ‘The Tomb’. His partners Abigail (Amy Ryan) and tech wiz Hush (Curtis ’50 Cent’ Jackson) don’t like it, but his business partner Lester Clark (Vincent D’Onofrio) can already smell the cash and urges Ray to accept.
No sooner is Ray inside, though, he realises he’s been set up and so must recruit fellow inmate Emil Rottmayer (Schwarzenegger) to devise a cunning escape plan to break out of The Tomb. However, he must not only contend with the sadistic guards, who look like extras from Westworld, but also evil warden Willard Hobbs (Jim Caviezel).
Anyone (myself included) who grew up watching Sly and Arnie taking down whole armies single-handed or saving the world from unstoppable robots were generally more interested in the hilariously over-the-top violence and corny one-liners than unimportant things like ‘acting’ or ‘characterisation’.
That fine tradition has been maintained in Escape Plan, which knows its audience and doesn’t try to do anything more sophisticated than serve up a healthy portion of buddy movie clichés and geriaction set pieces.
That’s certainly not to say it’s a bad film – far from it. Mikael Håfström may not be the most inspiring of directors (his style can probably be best described as ‘functional’), but he’s smart enough to give moviegoers what they want, namely plenty of Sly and Arnie.
Schwarzenegger in particular looks like he’s having a ball and does a nice job wringing the laughs out of the script. If The Expendables franchise has proved anything, it’s that Stallone works better these days playing opposite someone instead of trying to carry a film by himself and looks relaxed and energised as the straight man opposite Arnie.
Both Ryan and Sam Neill, who plays Dr Emil Kyrie, look like they’re waiting for their pay cheque to arrive, while D’Onofrio seems to be going for Touch Of Evil-era Orson Welles in his white hat and expanding waistline. Meanwhile, Jackson can’t act if his rap career depended on it; Britain’s Vinnie Jones goes through his usual repertoire of angry faces as head screw Drake; and Caviezel provides a seriously hammy turn as Hobbs, a counterpoint to his role as Number 6 in the 2009 TV miniseries The Prisoner based on the classic 1960s show.
Hobbs’ chief hobby, aside from tormenting the inmates, is trapping butterflies in clear boxes, which is as deep and symbolic as it gets.
Although nowhere near Sly and Arnie’s best, Escape Plan does enough to satisfy anyone rubbing their hands with nostalgic anticipation at the prospect of finally seeing these two heavyweights of action cinema let rip together.