If you didn’t see the Sylvester Stallone-Arnold Schwarzenegger prison break movie “Escape Plan” this weekend, I have a surprise for you.
It’s pretty awesome!
I’ve conducted a quick sample of reviews online, and I would characterize them overall as “mixed to favorable.” Rotten Tomatoes rates it at 52 percent among critics, with 69 percent of the audience having liked it. Critical comments run the gamut from ripping the film (“Tedious.” “Routine.” “Pointless.”) to damning it with faint praise (“…surprisingly entertaining!” “…does what it sets out to do”).
Whether liking or hating the movie, most critics seem to agree that the actual escape plan is ridiculous. Actually, I didn’t feel that the plan was any more preposterous than the ever-escalating series of improbable (or downright impossible) events that allowed “Gravity” to turn out the way it did, and it seems as though almost everyone agrees that it’s a masterpiece!
I liked “Gravity” very much, indeed. And, in terms of cinematography and special effects, I think it’s a masterpiece. But what I want you to know is, in its own way, “Escape Plan” is a masterpiece, too.
Three things distinguish a great buddy action thriller from its lesser rivals: A) the stars and the chemistry they share, B) a well-balanced blend of suspense and humor and C) a wonderfully realized villain.
In the case of “Escape Plan,” if the team-up of Sly and Ahnold had any more chemistry, the film would probably spontaneously combust.
Yeah, Stallone now seems capable of only two facial expressions: earnest and earnestly enraged. Yeah, Schwarzenegger, (unlike Stallone) seems to have lost a bit of muscle tone over the years. Doesn’t matter. Sly is deadly serious and ice-cold as the world’s foremost prison security expert Ray Breslin, who plies his trade by having himself locked up and then escaping from the toughest prisons on Earth. And then there’s Arnold, the actor. And I mean that! Arnold inhabits his character, big-man-in-prison Emil Rottmayer, as though he were an actual person, rather than just another on-screen version of himself. The only other time I can recall him getting this close to actually playing a part was in 1994’s “True Lies.”
Stallone’s Breslin is tricked into having himself locked up in the world’s most secure maximum security prison, a place constructed specifically by private industry to house the truly awful people the government wants to “disappear.” After he finds out he’s been “buried” forever, Breslin is befriended by Rottmayer. Rottmayer has noticed that Breslin is constantly observing and mentally cataloging aspects of “The Tomb,” as the prison has been dubbed. The two set to work devising a way to get out.
Their investigation of the prison’s hoped-for weaknesses requires many diversions, stunts and careful manipulations of various prisoners and staff. These activities are played for maximum action, drama and laughs. Stallone pounds along like a pit bull, and Schwarzenegger leaps from one challenge to the next with a twinkle in his eye and a surprisingly droll delivery of his many humorous lines. Arnold even manages to make a scene involving a variation of water-boarding funny.
And then there’s Jim Caviezel, as Warden Hobbes. In a delightful upending of the peculiarly soft-spoken hero of CBS’s “Person of Interest,” Caviezel plays a ruthless, butterfly-collecting, megalomaniacal sadist. As crazed movie villains go, the only thing missing from Hobbes’ arsenal of ironic commentary, facial tics, vicious inclinations and overarching ambition is a cat to hold and stroke throughout the proceedings. Of course, Warden Hobbes clearly couldn’t tolerate cat-hair on his expensive clothing, which is probably the only reason he doesn’t have one.
While some critics took exception to moments during the film where the obviously hyper-intelligent Hobbes had to suddenly “be stupid” in order for the escape plan to work, I chalked up those moments to the warden’s arrogance, based firmly in his belief that he was so much smarter than everyone else. If you’re at first doubtful as to the level of creepy that inhabits Caviezel’s Hobbes, or of the game that director Mikael Hafstrom is actually playing, watch closely for a cringe-inducing but hilarious moment between Hobbes and one of his video surveillance operators.
After an appropriately action- and subterfuge-fueled build-up, the escape plan is finally put into motion. From that moment on, things blast along.
I had a great time at this movie. Not only was it an enjoyable action thriller; it demonstrated that while neither Stallone nor Schwarzenegger are the draws they once were, together they are truly a force to be reckoned with.