Thursday, 20 March 2014

Escape Plan

It was only natural that I became curious when I heard of a forthcoming film featuring the two super-heavyweights of 80s action. As any man who grew up in the 90s can attest to, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone are part of my childhood. VHS copies of Commando or Cliffhanger might have been some of the first we owned and while most of their output has aged even worse than the actors themselves, I still get a little tingle at the thought of seeing them on screen. Escape Plan marks the pair’s first appearance as co-stars although they were seen on screen together in Stallone’s The Expendables. The pairing might have come twenty years later than most fans would have liked but it certainly draws more attention to this movie than it would have if only one man had featured. Joining Arnie and Sly are the likes of Vinnie Jones and 50 Cent so Citizen Kane, watch out!

Stallone plays Ray Breslin, a man who is paid by the US Government to break out of maximum security prisons; a job he excels at. The movie opens with a long, dull sequence in which the audience discovers just how good he is. He’s very good. He gets out. Although he barely has time to change out of his prison jumpsuit, he’s offered double his normal fee to break out of an undercover, off the grid, top, neigh, super-duper top secret facility. He literally grunts at the chance and is soon back inside. Immediately Breslin discovers that this is unlike any other jail he’s seen before and when his emergency escape code is laughed off, he realises he’s going to need all his skills (as well as fellow convict Emil Rottmayer – Schwarzenegger) if he’s going to escape. Breslin develops a plan – an Escape Plan.

The movie is about as preposterous as you’d expect but unfortunately it rarely reaches comic levels of ridiculousness. It remains doggy paddling in the ‘I’m a serious film’ waters for far too long, delivering only occasional attempts at frothiness and wit, most of which fall as flat as Stallone’s nose. The one giggle that erupted from inside my bored mind came from Arnie’s line “Have a good day, asshole”, a terrible attempt to replicate his famous kill scene lines of old. For the most part the film trots along with Sly looking around, occasionally mumbling something incoherent. The man’s ability to speak clearly appears to have been seriously diminished in recent years. This would be a problem for most of us but you need subtitles with Stallone.

There are numerous examples of stupidity and laziness in this film but here are just a few. To begin with, Schwarzenegger’s character is inside the world’s highest security prison because he apparently knows a guy who’s a bit like Robin Hood. Another unusual detail is that in this maximum security prison to out maximise all others, the prisoners spend most of their days together, in large groups. If I were to design a prison to keep the most evil, dangerous and stereotypical prisoners in the world locked up, I’d consider allowing them to spend less time together. The guards all wear masks which hide their identity. This seems sensible except for when the Escape Plan takes off and suddenly they are all unmasked. Surely now more than ever they would wish to remain unknown. All except the Vinny Jones character who goes unmasked for the entire film. For some reason.

Despite the little goofs, the movie’s main problem is that it just isn’t exciting. The action is bland and the script is as stale as a really rather stale thing. A margarine sandwich that you forgot about when the dog was barking at the neighbour’s cat two days ago, perhaps? The action scenes are intermittent and generally involve the two stars pretending to get into a spot of fisty-cuffs in order to outwit the guards and plan their escape. Even the extended finale, the escape itself, failed to get my heart pounding. The movie should be sold with a defibrillator to get the audience’s heart pumping. It surprised me that the film was so uninspiring and dull. I never expected Jurassic Park but something akin to even the first Expendables for fun and excitement would have been nice. The one saving grace is a late twist which I never saw coming. This made me reconsider how smart the film was and the writers deserve a small pat on the back for it. Followed by a slap in the face for the rest of the script.

The dialogue is about as corny as a corn and corned beef sandwich on a corn tortilla. There are numerous lines which had me groaning away into my cocktail, a cocktail which failed to increase my enjoyment of the picture. The dialogue, like the script as a whole, fails to fall into either fun or exciting-serious and straddles the ‘banal’ line without danger of teetering over either side. There are a few CGI shots which are poor and the score is obvious and recycled. The direction is an area in which I have few complaints.  Mikael Håfström is a man who can place a camera and shoot his actors. It’s not incredible but it’s better than a lot of other directors produce in the genre. As I’ve already mentioned briefly, the acting is an area that is rife with problems.

Stallone looks like a half melted T-Rex and his command of the English language is about as adroit. He mumbles his lines and looks confused for much of the film. His athleticism and strength is still impressive though given his advanced years. Arnie fares little better and is as wooden as ever, seemingly forgetting all he’s learned acting wise since stepping back into films from politics. Since losing his iconic frame, he’s relying on acting which is never a good sign. He was much better in The Last Stand. Vinne Jones is a retired footballer, not an actor and 50 Cent should stick to getting shot at. Amy Ryan is wasted and Jim Caviezel plays a cardboard cut out villain. He’s utterly forgettable. Sam Neill also pops up in a role that could have been played by a plant pot.

In the end, Escape Plan is a really disappointing movie. It isn’t quite silly enough to be fun and it’s too dull to be of any interest. It simply exists and I wish it didn’t.


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