‘The Escape Plan’ is comfort food for junk cinema heads

Arnold Schwarzenegger (who's asleep?) and Sly Stallone try to break from prison in "The Escape Plan." Credit: Summit Entertainment
Arnold Schwarzenegger (who’s asleep?) and Sly Stallone try to break from prison in “The Escape Plan.”
Credit: Summit Entertainment

‘The Escape Plan’
Director: Mikael Hafstrom
Stars: Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger
Rating: R
3 (out of 5) Globes

Feeling like an unearthed relic from the VHS era, the endearingly junky “Escape Plan’s” selling point is a long-awaited pairing of two movie icons: We finally get to see Amy Ryan and Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson sharing scenes together.

Oh, and it’s also got Sly and Arnold.

Schwarzenegger’s brief cameos were the highlights of Stallone’s “Expendables” pictures, so it was only a matter of time until these former rivals got around to spending more than a few minutes together onscreen. Cheerfully preposterous and proudly low-rent, director Mikael Hafstrom’s meat-and-potatoes throwback coasts on the chemistry of its co-stars. “Escape Plan” plays like comfort food for men of a certain age and temperament.

Stallone stars as Ray Breslin, an escape artist who literally wrote the book on prison breaks (“Compromising Correctional Institutional Security”) and works as the “resident Houdini” for a private security firm alongside the aforementioned Ryan and “techno-thug” Jackson. Sly’s busted out of fourteen penitentiaries thus far, but runs out of luck when he’s cut off from his support team and trapped in a quasi-futuristic CIA black site that looks like a cheaply decorated Hollywood soundstage.

The hilariously fey warden (Jim Caviezel) has no patience for Ray’s protestations of being on official assignment, and there’s a sadistic screw (Vinnie Jones) dispensing beatings. Our hero’s only hope is a suspiciously friendly detainee, magnificently named Emil Rottmayer and played with contagious self-delight by Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The Italian Stallion is stuck carrying the burden of exposition, mumbling semi-intelligibly about structural engineering while The Governator goes hog-wild, stealing scenes with reckless abandon. Stallone graciously hands the movie over to Schwarzenegger, rolling his eyes while his sidekick indulges in all manner of giddy vulgarities and wannabe catch-phrases. Whether barking a crazy phony religious tirade in German or announcing, “You hit like a vegetarian,” Ah-nald hasn’t been this much fun in decades.

Unfortunately Hafstrom isn’t much of a filmmaker, and at 116 minutes “Escape Plan” is at least half-an-hour longer than it needed to be. The weirdly overqualified supporting cast includes Vincent D’Onofrio telegraphing sinister intentions by obsessively applying hand sanitizer and Sam Neil playing a prison doctor so morally conflicted he actually re-reads The Hippocratic Oath.

But in the end, “Escape Plan” knows that we all came to see Stallone get into a grunty, bare-knuckle brawl while Schwarzenegger shoulders an enormous machine gun and mows down dozens of extras. For some viewers that will be more than enough. Your personal mileage may vary.


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