Escape Plan-1Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger. God bless ’em, they do try hard. Both of the actors are going through a final hurrah as it were, before the arthritis renders them inert. While The Expendables franchise has proven popular (to the tune of $580 million), their solo efforts outside of that have failed to ignite the box office and their fans. And it is not that they are any worse than The Expendables, if anything there are considerably better. Stallone’s Bullet to the Head did deserve to under perform, it is a completely dull, mildly entertaining 80’s throwback that at least didn’t have The Expendables incessant winking. Schwarzenegger’s The Last Stand, however, was a damn good slice of 80’s throwback, with a ridiculous grind-house vibe, and Schwarzenegger delivering an assured and measured performance and actually acting his age (something which Stallone seems to be avoiding). Now, finally, after two Expendables movies offering brief moments between the pair, we finally have a full length team-up picture. The only question that stands now; was the wait worth it?

Stallone stars as Ray Breslin, a man who breaks out of prisons for a living, putting maximum security designs to the ultimate test. His next job offer asks him to take on the most sophisticated prison ever designed, known as ‘The Tomb’. It is a prison which has specifically been built to house criminals no Government wants on their books. Off the grid is putting it lightly. After agreeing to the job, Ray soon discovers that this is no normal job. He wakes up in the prison to find that the Warden he was expecting does not exist; in his place is the maniacal Willard Hobbs (Jim Caviezel) who is Escape Plan-2determined to keep Ray there forever. Desperate to find out who really put him in this hell hole, Ray teams up with fellow in-mate Emil Rottmayer (Schwarzenegger), the good-old resourceful in-mate, and together they plan to pull of an ambitious escape attempt from the supposedly in-escapable facility.

As far as the story is concerned, it is a decent enough concept that echoes of the two stars 80’s efforts (Stallone in particular is no stranger to prisons). The story development itself is on the right side of ridiculous. Twists occur, backs are stabbed, and we are expected to roll along with them as smoothly as the cast seems to. However, while the concept is strong, the execution leaves much to be desired. The idea of having a super high tech prison for our two action stars to use as a playground should be visually exciting, giving the stars plenty to work with. And while the initial reveal is slightly impressive, the production design ultimately proves to be quite boring and downright dull. The cinematography itself is also devoid of colour and personality; director Mikael Hafstrom does not seem to interested in making his picture pop, heck even Bullet to the Head at least had a New Orleans fever aesthetic to it. Hafstrom seems to be relying on the star wattage of his two leading men to give the picture buzz, and that does pay off. Just about.

Stallone is usually dependable for his strange brand of slurring charisma, yet here he seems a bit bored, perhaps due to not calling the shots or penning the page this time around, he feels less dedicated to the project. He remains as watchable as ever, but he only truly commits to the picture during his scenes with Schwarzenegger… speaking of which. Schwarzenegger turns in one of the best performances of his career. Granted, his career is not one that has relied on strong performances, but here in Escape Plan he is an actor retuning to a game that he’s Escape Plan-3been out from for nearly 10 years. He’s got something to prove, and damn well makes sure he make you remember him in this one. He relies on his natural charisma, wit, and bravado, but proves he is rather deft at delivering an affecting performance when talking in his native tongue. A scene which sees him burst out in a Germanic-rant is oddly captivating and startling to behold. In regard to the supporting cast, Caviezel cranks the creep factor to 11, Vinnie Jones is laughable at best, Sam Neill adds a touch of class, while Curtis ’50 Cent’ Jackson turns up to say ‘motherfucker’ a lot.

While Hafstrom may not be too interested in making his film have a visual personality, he does prove rather apt at staging an action sequence. The opening escape is well structured and establishes the workings of Breslin’s mind. The film is also well paced, efficiently building a steady gallop to the finale, which truly does deliver with punch the air action hero moments (any film with Arnie wielding an automatic machine gun in slow-motion is not without its merits. The ending has one too many twists, but all in all the pacing allows for a satisfying action film to be had. If only it had a bit more of a visceral punch.

Where Escape Plan earns some points is in its avoidance of knowing winks to the respective stars past catalogue and its complete avoidance in self-referential-ism. It does not need to rely on an over-abundance of cameo’s, it relies on its scenario and stars to deliver. If a more visually interesting director had been assigned instead of Escape Plan 9Hafstrom, whom I have never held in high regard following The Rite, there may have been a more effective sense of place and environment beyond what we have been served here. Yet, he knows his way around an action scene, and there is nothing better then seeing two of your favourite action stars finally starring together in a full length feature. They came to entertain. And that’s what they do. Nuff said.

3/5- A film with no allusions about itself; Escape Plan lacks a visual edge, but offers enough action thrills and grade-A Schwarzenegger to make this Sly/Arnie team up worth the ticket price.

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