By Mike Dyer, Staff Writer
The concept: cool, the stars: legends, the film: ok… What sounds like a great idea doesn’t always result in a great film, but in the case of “Escape Plan” the combination proved an enjoyable film that could have been a great film. Sylvester Stallone plays Ray Breslin, a former prosecutor who after the death of his wife and child turns partner in a security firm specializing in federal prison integrity. To test the prison systems in America, Breslin assumes a false identity and is placed in a prison. From there he uses his critical thinking and skillset to break out of said prison and then reports the faults in the prisons’ security to the warden. Together with his team of Abigail Ross (Amy Ryan), Hush (rapper 50 Cent), and business partner Lester Clark (Vincent D’Onofrio) Breslin has successfully broken out of almost every prison in the federal system. After completing his most recent job he is approached by the CIA to test a new top secret facility they have invested countless funds in trying to make it escape proof. Breslin accepts the job, despite having to go in with no idea where he will be. Once dragged to the facility known as “the tomb” Breslin finds himself the victim of a set up; dealing with glass cells, guards with black masks for faces, an eccentric warden (Jim Caviezel), and no possibility for escape. Then enter Emil Rottmayer (Arnold Schwarzenegger), an inmate who claims to be held captive for containing information on the whereabouts of his boss Victor Mannheim. Rottmayer instantly shows an interest in Breslin and what he did to become a prisoner in the tomb. Their partnership slowly grows as they realize they both have reasons to escape and want to punish Warden Hobbs for creating “the tomb” and incarcerating them.
By the description, you can tell that it sounds like an 80’s action thriller, and that is exactly what it is. You can view “Escape Plan” two ways: an epic throw back to great action films of yesteryear with updated action sequences, or a romping piece of pop-culture that is best seen as a VHS tape from a dusty shelf at Blockbuster. I personally prefer the first, my biggest complaint with the film is that it tries to strive higher than it should and fails, but these minor things holding it back from an epic action flick could have been easily been fixed. For instance; the first 20 minutes of the film show the intelligence of Stallone’s character, and his monologue over the action of his escape works. But, when Stallone is in a scene with his business employees and partner, his character just fades in importance, with nothing to contribute to the conversation. The lack of chemistry between Stallone and Ryan is painfully obvious, even more so because the audience is supposed to pick up on a mutual attraction between them. Perhaps what upsets me even more is the character Breslin has a backstory that is just left for the audience to fill in with no exposition. His drastic change from prosecutor to prison integrity tester came after the murder of his family, apparently by an escaped inmate. I really feel like this would have been an excellent opportunity for flashbacks, especially during a sequence where his character is being tortured by the prison guards, thus restoring some of the character’s and the film’s integrity. Additionally the charter of Warden Hobbs is given characteristics (like collecting butterflies for display) for no apparent reason other than showing the character can multitask. Additionally hurting the film is the number of conveniences that allow the characters to plot and execute their escape. For instance; while the villain’s death at the end of the film is justified, the circumstances of it are too convenient and unsatisfying. Adding to the dissatisfaction is the revelation of another villain whose demise does not come from Breslin directly punching the crap out of them.
At the very end of the film we are clued in on a twist I didn’t see coming, but it allows the film to tie up every loose end through a monologue from Rottmayer in five minutes that leaves me with the conclusion that “Escape Plan” is just a clever film, not a smart one. I’m totally fine with a film that has Stallone and Schwarzenegger as the leads, their two names combined with the banter between them is what makes me feel spending $9 at the box office justified. However, tying that in with a film that tries to be something it’s not (but easily could have been) is just annoying and a combination that wasn’t necessary to make “The Expendables” franchise the success that it is. People will go see a film with these two guys as the leads because they remember them as the action greats that they are. Stallone and Schwarzenegger gained that status by playing roles to their strengths and while “Escape Plan” does in some respect, its lack of developed characters that should be developed, characters that need a little less detail, load of conveniences, and plot holes are enough to raise questions. This reality of me raising questions to a film that I so desperately want not to given its stars and premise is a personal prison that I feel one shouldn’t have to plan an escape from.