Bustin’ loose with Arnie and Sly

by Mark Burger

There’s no prison that can hold Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger, as is eventually proved in Escape Plan, an action blowout that could have been shorter but could also have been much worse. (Both stars have made far worse films than this.)

Actually, Escape Plan is quite easy to take on its own terms, and there is some measure of pleasure in watching the two action-movie icons — the Italian Stallion and the Austrian Oak — paired off as prisoners bent on breaking out.

Stallone’s Ray Breslin is a security expert whose specialty is breaking out of prisoners, and so successful is he that he’s written a book about it. When an offer comes in—– supposedly sanctioned by the CIA (uh-oh!) — to break out of a mysterious prison housing inmates deemed the worst of the worst, Ray accepts the offer for pride as much as financial reward, although his patently untrustworthy partner (Vincent D’Onofrio), is clearly in it for the money alone.

Ray is then abducted, beaten and bounced into a futuristic fortress that looks left over from the last (or next) Marvel blockbuster, lorded over by the imperious Warden Hobbes (Jim Caviezel), who claims to have read Ray’s guide but has clearly taken a few pages from the Norman Bates playbook.

Realizing that he’s been set up from the get-go, Ray forms an uneasy alliance with cell-block king Emil Rottmayer (California’s former governor), an alliance that naturally leads to the film’s title, which can scarcely be accused of subtlety.

Director Mikael Hafstrom doesn’t stray far from the formula but incorporates a few genuinely nightmarish sequences, and the plot offers some surprises along the way, as well as the requisite bone-crunching, head-bashing, bullet-riddled action that fans expect.

Overall, the film is less jokey than audiences might expect. Schwarzenegger gets his laughs while Stallone plays it very seriously. It makes for an amusing contrast, but by far the most amusing element of the film is Caviezel’s devilishly tongue-in-cheek turn as the wacko warden. Vinnie Jones (in brute mode) plays Hobbes’ hatchet man, while a glum Sam Neill adds a touch of (misplaced?) dignity as the prison doctor. Amy Ryan and Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson are relegated to the sidelines — as is D’Onofrio, for the most part — as Ray’s allies on the outside.

No fair revealing how it turns out, but even without seeing the film you can probably guess.

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