Escape Plan is a marriage made in heaven as two 80s action icons, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone, roll back the years to fight their way out of the US government’s latest maximum security prison. Sounds good right…
Well, have you ever followed a recipe, got all your ingredients neatly laid out in front of you, pre-heated the oven to just the right temperature, gone through each step with meticulous attention to detail, served it up, your mouth a’ quivering with anticipation, only for it to taste awful? Just. Plain. Awful.
You check back to your cookbook, surely you must’ve missed something, left out one crucial ingredient. But no, you followed the recipe to the letter, all the ingredients were present and correct. So what happened??
You just watched Escape Plan, that’s what happened.
Arnie. Sly. In a movie. Together. Surely that’s the formula for an absolutely delicious viewing experience. But there in lies the rub. This is formulaic filmmaking and at its very worst. Unapologetic in its ‘paint-by-numbers’ approach to storytelling it moves through the narrative gears with the clunky uncertainty of a clapped-out old Skoda. More sexed-up TV show than long awaited Hollywood blockbuster, the ‘cool’ graphics, used to emphasise Devlin’s (Stallone) keen eye for identifying the weak points in a prison’s defences, just feels like a cheap gimmick.
Arnie seemed old and tired (maybe that Governor’s desk took its toll) as he struggled to match Stallone’s commitment to the cause. Which, it’s briefly worth mentioning, was the only thing that (came close to) carrying the film. The pay-off was cheap and ultimately amounted to a self-referential, albeit enjoyable, slow-motion moment when Arnie finally picks up a big gun and opens up on the bad guys. OK, this was fun and everyone in the cinema enjoyed it but it was the only moment in the entire film that garnered that reaction from the audience, any kind of reaction for that matter.
Then, as if to plug the sprawling canyons in the plot, a succession of A-Listers are wheeled out at strategic intervals as our supporting ‘characters’: Sam Neill as the guilt-ridden prison doctor; Jim Caviezel the pantomime dictator Governor and Vincent D’Onofrio as Stallone’s two-dimensionally OCD business partner. And then there’s 50 Cent. Best not even mention him. Actually, we should. Then we don’t have to mention Vinnie Jones. OK. Well, 50 Cent is in this film. And his teeth are very white.
It’s upsetting that this film was such a terrible disappointment but where Expendables and, particularly, Expendables 2 work so well is in their ability to recognise and play to their strengths. Maybe Escape Plan just has no strengths but the only enjoyable moments in it are those self-aware and tongue-in-cheek glimpses where they give the audience what they came to see: our action heroes doing what they do best. Action.
And yet, and yet, just as you’re questioning your undying love for Arnie and Sly, a momentary peak at that self-referential magic that makes the ‘geriaction’ resurgence so magnificent. When the plot twist at the end is revealed Sly turns to Arnie and flippantly says, ‘well, I didn’t see that coming’, Arnie retorts, ‘well, you should have’. This is either wonderful in-joke irony or just appalling dialogue, either way it’s great and makes you think again about what you’ve just sat through. Were they joking the whole time? If only there had been more moments like that one…but there weren’t.
Sadly, the only Escape Plan worth seeing was the route out of the cinema. And fast.