Imagine having a job which involves spending much of your adult life in a prison. “No big deal,” you think. “Lots of prison guards, doctors, etc. all do that.” Okay, but what if you were locked in a cell and treated like a prisoner? Now I’ve got your interest, don’t I? That’s the profession of Escape Plan‘s protagonist, Ray Breslin (Sylvester Stallone). He tests the security systems of prisons all around America. He waits and studies and then tries to break out of them. That is his job. That can’t be fun.
The payoff is very good, however, and he seems to enjoy it enough. He’s made enough money to retire, and judging by his age, likely should. One day, an FBI Agent tells him she wants him to test a new, off-grid, prison system — one that has been designed to be impenetrable. Perhaps Ray enjoys challenges. Despite the job breaking all protocols — his team can’t know where he is, for example — he accepts it. I’m not sure if the term “one last job” is ever used but it might as well be. He’s not going to be able to escape from this one.
Or, at least, that’s the hope of the warden, Hobbes (Jim Caviezel), who explains that nobody will ever break out and that he has no knowledge of the safety code Ray was supposedly given. Ray has been buried, he claims. Someone wants him here for real. He’s going to find out who that was and kill him or her. Inside, he meets Emil Rottmayer (Arnold Schwarzenegger), who is played by an actor who, like the character of Ray, has made enough money to retire and probably should, given his age. I’m so, so, so funny. Laugh. Please.
From here, the rest of the film follows a simple process. Ray and Emil team up to try to figure out (1) where they are, exactly, and (2) how to escape. Prison break movies aren’t that common nowadays, and while this one is unlikely to ignite any new ones, it’s kind of fun to see these two actors team up for more than a cameo while “acting” in a generic and predictable movie with absolutely no pretense of being something more than a trashy B-movie.
Escape Plan is moderately successful if you watch it with big nostalgia glasses which have been turned up to 10. If you’re one of the people who giggled with glee upon seeing Stallone and Schwarzenegger on-screen together in the Expendables franchise, then this is the movie for you. A real team-up film between these actors probably would have made a lot more sense in the 1980s — a time period that contained films from which this one draws inspiration — but for some people a “better now than never” approach will satisfy.
I struggle to recommend it to anyone who isn’t longing for the days of old, or to people who aren’t a big fan of either actor. It’s a mediocre, predictable, and overly long (115 minutes), and after the initial awe wears off, it becomes grating. The cheesy one-liners, the silliness, the completely wasted villain whose motivation is as basic as they come, story “twists” that you’ll see scenes in advance, and an actual lack of action is too much for nostalgia to overcome. Or, at least, I couldn’t get much joy from Escape Plan.
Some of the problem also comes from the movie’s tone, which is surprisingly serious. You know that these actors are too old for this, and I figure so do they. But the screenplay doesn’t, so everything — even with the one-liners — isn’t self-aware in the least. It’s all dark and grim, not at all funny, and little attempt is made to draw attention to the ridiculousness of this whole idea. There are a couple of jokes but nowhere near enough of them.
There are also distracting members of the supporting cast. The focus is clearly supposed to be on the two elderly leads, but then someone like Sam Neill shows up to draw our attention and remind us what actual acting looks like — that might be why they stand out so much. Even Jim Caviezel, playing the warden, has this happen to him. He’s the primary villain but he mostly just gets to sit around, nowhere near the leads, and talk in a monotonous voice. Vincent D’Onofrio, Amy Ryan, Vinnie Jones, and Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson are all victims of this — to varying degrees, as ordered here.
There is little to recommend when it comes to Escape Plan. It’s a serious prison break movie that probably should have been tonally more of a lark. Its stars struggle to carry the movie, and this is made even more apparent by distracting supporting cast members, and there’s surprisingly little action or thrills for a prison break movie. Any attempt to generate suspense and tension falls flat. This is a dull experience that reminds us why both stars are on the downside of their careers. If they showed this movie to actual inmates, the inmates would likely request that it be turned off. Solitary confinement would be a better use of their time.