It's been a bad year for Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sly Stallone. Or at least, as bad a year as it can be for two enormously successful movie stars with legions of fans.
Arnold's most recent movie, comeback attempt "The Last Stand," made significantly less money than the average Hotdog Stand, and Stallone's "Bullet To The Head" proved about as popular with movie goers as a Kick To The Nuts.
With their reputations suitably bruised, the two have teamed up for "Escape Plan," a movie that was originally entitled "The Tomb," until, presumably, someone worked out that if it died at the box office the headlines would just be too, too easy to write.
For the unaware, "Escape Plan" sees Stallone playing a security expert who specialises in escaping from maximum security prisons in order to test their effectiveness. After being double-crossed, Sly is incarcerated in a supposedly perfect prison and left to rot, teaming up with Arnold's veteran convict to hatch a Tomb....Sorry. "Escape Plan."
Having sat through "The Last Stand", personally accounting for about 20% of its ticket sales in the process, I can safely say it was amusing, but also an objectively terrible, terrible film. "Bullet To The Head" was rumoured to be even worse, but, like me, Stallone's character in the movie was a fan of Bulleit Bourbon (geddit?!) so when watching it I began playing "drink along with Sly," and as a result can't remember much of what happened. It's accurate to say I've sat in front of "Bullet To The Head" for its duration, but I still haven't actually seen it.
Either way, going into "Escape Plan," I had pretty low expectations. Was I wrong?
Surprisingly, I was. At least a little.
There's a lot wrong with "Escape Plan." Vinnie Jones and 50 Cent are both in it, for starters, making Arnie and Sly look like classical thespians in the process. The script is nowhere near as clever as it thinks it is, and occasionally goes too far into the ridiculous - without giving anything away, you'd be surprised what Stallone can do with a ballpoint pen and a stolen pair of glasses.
The morality of the story is also a little worrying, at times. The Tomb (the nickname for the unbreakable super-prison) is supposedly home to extremely dangerous political prisoners whom the world's governments would like to see vanish. Ignoring the fact that when a government wants someone dead, they usually just assassinate them, we are asked to sympathise at times with a devoutly Muslim inmate. Whilst it's nice to see Hollywood attempting to play a laborious "not all Muslims are evil!" note, one wonders whether any sympathy should really be saved for someone who is almost certainly, based on the evidence, a terrorist bomber.
Whilst I'm generally not a fan of the idea that viewers should switch off their brains during a film, I do accept that it would be asking a lot for a StalloneSchwarzenegger team up to be meticulously plotted or ponder the intricacies of the geopolitical scene too deeply. With that taken as read (or at least taken as explained by someone literate), there's actually a lot to like about the movie.
The word that kept coming back to me again and again was "timeless." Not in the sense of a timeless masterpiece, as this is resolutely not the case, but in the sense that this film really could have been made in the mid-to-late eighties. Sure, the stars have aged, Stallone seeming to have come off the worst over time, or at least seeming to have the less gifted plastic surgeon, but the film is unapologetically fun in the style of... well, a Stallone or Schwarzenegger movie.
For the first time in recent memory, there is also a refreshing lack of age jokes. Both men are still believably fit, and seeing them run a hundred yards or climb a ladder or punch someone in the face doesn't remotely stretch credulity. Rather than making tired old "we're so tired and old" references, the stars just go about their business of making an action film. Indeed, far from playing the burned out Sheriff in "The Last Stand," Arnold's true comeback moment seems to be at the end of this film when he turns in slow motion and does something that can only be described as Schwarzeneggeresque.
In fact, "Escape Plan" may even mark a bizarre high-point in Arnold's career in that, for the first time ever, he actually succeeds as an actor. Interestingly, this moment comes when he is speaking his native German, but in his own language he conveys genuine emotion. It's quite surprising, and makes me wonder if, in another time and place, he could have actually been a respected actor in Austria instead of a dramatic punchline in English.
It would be disingenuous to say "Escape Plan" is great, but it really is pretty good. Marketing is probably going to kill it stone dead - the previews before the screening were all for CGI-heavy hokum like Keanu Reeves' awful-looking "47 Ronin" and a pointless sequel to "300," neither of which appealed to the viewing audience who had turned out to watch aging meatheads crack skulls in a prison. But, if you're one of the dwindling group of people to whom aging meatheads cracking skulls appeals, then "Escape Plan" gives you exactly what you want. It's a lot like finding an Greatest Hits album by a band you'd forgotten you liked - often familiar, and never revolutionary, but still a lot of fun.
Yeah, there's no way I'm not starting work on that screenplay as soon as I'm done here...
Review by hawaiianshirt79 from the Internet Movie Database.