With its dinosaur stars Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger, the new action thriller Escape Plan looks like a standard semi-trashy ’80s throwback flick. Guess what? It is. But guess what again? It’s actually pretty good. Here are five reasons why.
1) A cool concept.
Stallone plays Ray Breslin, a master breakout artist who, along with his partner (Vincent D’Onofrio), runs a profitable business that sends him, incognito, into a series of prisons that he then promptly busts out of. The idea is to expose the flaws in the prisons’ security plans and earn the partners nice consulting fees.
That idea yields a fun prologue in which Ray, who appears to be an ordinary inmate, gets in a prison-yard fight, is sent to solitary confinement and yet devises a way out by using the full range of MacGyver-tastic tricks. Did you know the film from inside the wax coating of a half-pint of chocolate milk can be used to obtain the secret security code of a maximum-security cell? I didn’t either, and maybe it can’t, but the details of Ray’s breakout are plausible enough for an action movie.
2) A twisty execution.
As Ray gets hauled off to try to break out of a secret site that is being run as a private prison by some ex-Blackwater types gone rogue, you’ll be able to see some of the turns coming in advance. Yet quite a few come as welcome surprises and some even catch our hero off guard despite his uncanny ability to analyze the smallest details with Sherlock Holmes-level insight and predict outcomes accordingly.
3) The brotherhood of the Italian Stallion and the Austrian cyborg.
Schwarzenegger and Stallone appeared in the two Expendables films together, but the former was very much a junior partner in them. This time, the two ’80s stars (once fierce rivals, at least according to Stallone, who has said he had a “violent hatred” for Arnold and his success back in the day) share a lot of screen time, and the film (which is already not-bad) kicks things up to another level when we meet Schwarzenegger as a fellow inmate at the private super-prison.
The two of them start to work together to outsmart the warden (James Caviezel) and launch their joint escape plan, but some of the best scenes in the movie consist of the two of them just talking. In his prime, Stallone made the mistake of monopolizing the scenery, but this film and The Expendables show that he’s wisely learned to be more generous and share the best material with other actors. And that material can be funnier than you might have guessed, which leads us to…
4) The wit of the script.
Although a lot of the screenplay consists of Ray simply riffing on his genius ideas about how everything works and his telling us about using this encyclopedic expertise to bust out, there are also a number of sardonically funny lines.
When told Ray breaks out of prison for a living, Schwarzenegger’s character Rottmayer says, “You don’t look that smart.” Everyone in the audience has been thinking the same thing.
5) The smart pace of the action.
Last winter’s horrible A Good Day to Die Hard showed that you can waste lots of complicated chases and gunfights and explosions if the script can’t figure out a way to make them seem organic.
The Expendables suffered from the same overeagerness to cram in as many showy trailer moments as possible without worrying about overkill. Escape Plan, though, which is directed by Sweden’s Mikael Hafstrom, relies heavily on dialogue and it’s painstaking about explaining each step of Ray’s thought processes as he goes along.
All that setup makes the big, noisy, chaotic climax a lot more meaningful and entertaining. It may not make complete sense, but this is the movies. We’re willing to suspend disbelief if the filmmakers at least made the effort to work out exactly how all this stuff goes down.