12:22 PM EDT, October 18, 2013
Stupid but fun, "Escape Plan" takes place largely in a secret prison, a massive honeycomb of glass and steel where the black-clad guards sport masks out of "V for Vendetta" and the worst criminals in the universe have been collected, like trading cards, in order to be "disappeared" far away from prying governmental eyes.
But what's this? Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger, trying to break out together? Arnold spouting wild-eyed threats in German? Sly looking and sounding precisely the same after repeated sadistic beatings? "Escape Plan" wins no points for neatness. It barely tells its story straight. The action's not especially well-staged or shot. But it's a tick or two up from "The Expendables," the movie that brought these two together, albeit briefly, the first time.
The project flirted with the titles "The Tomb," the prison's nickname, and "Exit Plan," which sounded more like a corporate bankruptcy brief than an action movie. The plot's ridiculous. Security whiz Ray Breslin (Stallone) wrote the book on jailbreaks and how to prevent them (title: "Compromising Correctional Institutional Security"), and his job, a lonely one, is infiltrating various facilities and then busting out for a fee.
Then comes a dilly: a new, privately funded facility in an undisclosed location. Ray's business partner, played with clever comic effrontery by Vincent D'Onofrio, urges him to take on this Everest of prison-break assignments. Inside the prison, Ray realizes he's been double-crossed by someone — the CIA? — and isn't getting out any time soon, unless he can persuade fellow inmate Emil Rottmayer (Schwarzenegger) to join forces and soar to freedom, bodies a-flying all the way.
The script trips over itself with some klutzy side plotting involving the protagonists' pasts and motivations and such. Screenwriters Miles Chapman and Arnell Jesko aren't above recycling the lamest possible comebacks for Sly ("You say that like it's a bad thing," he says at one point, for the nine billionth time in the history of American popular culture.).
Happily, better-than-expected actors keep turning up in "Escape Plan," including D'Onofrio, who turns his affably bizarre character with the distinctly Chicago accent into a symphony of germaphobic hand-sanitizing. Sam Neill plays the conscience-stricken prison doctor; Amy Ryan is Sly's business associate and maybe-sometime-lover; Jim Caviezel lends a cool, purring menace to the persnickety warden. (He may well be the grandson of Hume Cronyn's warden in "Brute Force.")
The director Mikael Hafstrom has made better films ("1408") and worse ones ("The Rite"). This one puts a couple of movie monoliths together, with their combined 131 years of experience. It's a fairly good headbanger. And one of Arnold's mid-brawl wisecracks drew a legitimate whoop from the red-meat crowd: "You hit like a vegetarian!"
"Escape Plan" - 2 1/2 stars
MPAA rating: R (for violence and language throughout)
Running time: 1:56
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