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Movie Review: “Escape Plan”

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Let me start out by saying this. By no means is “Escape Plan” a good film. In fact, it’s quite a ridiculous film with an outlandish plot, cardboard cutouts in place of characters, and dialogue that ranks right up there with your everyday soap opera scripts.

That being said, “Escape Plan” is not really a bad movie either. Like I said, it’s not going to win an Oscar, nor is it going to make the American Film Institute rethink their list of “Top 100 Films,” but it is an entertaining movie. It’s a fun film – a popcorn flick, if you will. And although the performances aren’t necessarily up there with Marlon Brando in On the Waterfront,” (or even Steven Seagal in “Hard to Kill,” mind you) the actors do look like they’re having a grand ole time running around elaborate set pieces and blowing them up.

Plus, as an added bonus – when’s the last time you got to see Arnold Schwarzenegger hurling insults, curse words and grenades in the same movie? I reckon it would pre-date his stay at Governor’s Mansion in Cah-lee-forn-ya… at least. Actually, his portrayal of prisoner Rottmayer is right up there with his turn as John Matrix in 1985’s revenge-filled action flick “Commando” (“What happened to Sully?” – “I let him go.” – classic). Schwarzenegger

Anold Schwarzenegger in "Escape Plan"

Arnold loves to back the NRA every chance he gets.

gets to make sexually-charged comments toward his fellow prisoners AND is able to stage a “Total Recall” style freak out session, where he’s spouting bible-tinged phrases about the devil in a prison cell, all in the same film. You remember that scene from “Total Recall” of which I speak about?

It’s towards the end of the film, when his character is on the surface of Mars and has no air to breath. Remember? He’s screaming, “Aaargh,” and his tongue is waggling around and his eyes are bulging out of his head. No? You still don’t remember? Well, even if you don’t, I just described to you one of the more memorable scenes from “Escape Plan.” So, basically, forget that sub-par schlockfest from earlier this year, “The Last Stand.” This film marks THE REAL RETURN of Arnold Schwarzenegger to the action film genre. Welcome back Arnie.

The film is chock-full of scenes like this. It even brings back something that has been (in my opinion) sorely lacking since Ah-nuld went into office – the action film catch phrase. There have been so many great ones in the past and now they seem to be missing from action flicks completely. Well, not any more… now that “Escape Plan” is in theaters.

The premise of the film is pretty simple. Sylvester Stallone plays Ray Breslin and he’s stuck in jail. Ray Breslin is there against his will (come to think of it, aren’t all prisoners?) and he wants out. He wants to escape. So, he formulates an escape plan. Get it? That’s the name of the movie – “Escape Plan.” Anyway, Breslin puts his escape plan to the test, as he attempts to skedaddle from one of the most secure and mysterious prisons ever built. No, not Alcatraz. Although, it might as well be, because the two prisons are very similar in certain respects. I won’t tell you what those similarities are, because that would be a “spoiler” and I wouldn’t want to go “overboard.” Too much of a clue? All right, fine. The prison is located on a giant cargo ship in the middle of “calm seas,” but that’s all I’m saying. Happy now?

First, let me hit you with a bit of background info on Ray Breslin. He’s one half of the Breslin/Clark company, which provides a service to the Federal Bureau of Prisons to check the structural integrity of the worlds’ most secure prisons. In a nutshell, he gets paid to be given a prearranged fake identity. After which he’s placed into the general inmate population of a maximum security prison and given the seemingly insurmountable task to “breakout” of that prison. If he succeeds, he

Schwarzenegger and Sly Stallone in "Escape Plan"

Oh, how we love our action stars… all old and mumbling.

escapes, gets paid a ridiculous amount of money, and deems the prison a security risk. If he doesn’t succeed, he uses a safety word and he’s pulled out of the prison, at which time he gives the prison the rating of “escape proof.” The thing is, Ray Breslin is so good at his job that he actually wrote the book (literally) on prison integrity. As he’s described, Breslin can “breakout of any prison known to man.” He actually tries to explain it himself (as only Stallone can), as he states, “Some people have the talent to paint, some can sing, I can break out of prisons.” Or, something along those lines.

First, we have a fairly long opening sequence, which shows Breslin doing what he does best and vamoosing from an unnamed solitary confinement section (ironically, these sections are usually the least secure) of a maximum security prison. He does so with the help of his team, which consists of Lester Clark (played by Vincent D’Onofrio – he’s the “Clark” in Breslin/Clark and the “money man” of the operation), Abigail (played by Amy Ryan – she provides the “distraction” that’s necessary for his escape and is the mandatory love interest for Breslin) and Hush (Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson – he’s the “techno thug” computer expert).

After a successful escape, in which he MacGyvers his way out of his cell using wadded-up toilet paper, the plastic film from a chocolate milk container, and a timely explosion from Abigail from the outside, his firm takes on another, more dangerous assignment. It seems that a privately-funded group has built a super-maximum prison, that apparently holds the deadliest criminals on the planet (they’re referred to as “game changers”), and they want to hire Breslin to make sure the prison is up to speed. Abigail and Hush voice their opinions as it not being such a great idea. Too risky, they say.

However, Lester thinks it’s a great idea – being that they’ve offered the firm $5 million to do it. However, Breslin is apprehensive at first, but finally agrees to do it. I guess being paid a lot of money, to do something you know you shouldn’t do, is just too enticing. Just ask the actors in this film. I kid, I kid. Or, do I?

Anyway, Breslin is given a new identity of Porthos and a safe word in case he wants to abort. Plus, Hush puts a tracking device into Ray’s arm, just in case they NEED to find him. Well, literally, about 2 minutes later Breslin is kidnapped, tased, and thrown into a creep van, in which his attackers immediately cut the tracking device out of his arm. He’s then drugged and transported to “The Tomb” – a state-of-the-art prison filled with glass, see-through cells, guards that constantly break routine (learning a guard’s routine is one of the easiest ways to plan an escape) and questionable security tactics that border on torturous. Not the most fun place on the planet to be stuck in – kind of like Sesame Place.

Breslin goes through his normal routine – scanning the place for aforementioned routines of the

Jim Caviezel, some weird guards and Scwarzenegger in "Escape Plan"

A little one-on-one time.

guards (who dress like a cross between Cobra soldiers and mannequins) and flaws in the structural integrity, plus making enemies (which is a must, so he can get thrown in “the hole,” which, like I stated earlier, is the easiest place to escape from). However, he can’t seem to find any flaws. See, unbeknownst to him, the builders of “The Tomb” actually used his book to build a prison that no man can escape from – not even him. A copy of the book can even be found on the desk of the corrupt, sadistic Warden Hobbs (deliciously played by Jim Caviezel, who, for the record, also looks like he’s having a blast making this movie).

Breslin’s strange behavior immediately catches the eye of Rottmayer (don’t forget, Schwarzenegger’s in this flick too) and the two of them become circumstantial allies. You know – that “you scratch my back, I’ll punch you in the face to get you sent to the hole” kindof relationship. After, a few trips to solitary, Breslin figures out an ingenious way to escape. I won’t ruin it, but it actually makes some scientific sense.

Kudos to screenwriters Miles Chapman (“Road House 2: Last Call” – yes, they actually made a “Road House 2″) and Jason Keller (however, he must’ve not liked the way things went with this particular film, as he used an “Alan Smithee” type pseudonym in the credits of “Arnell Jesko”) for actually including a little bit of plausible information when writing the escape scenes. That being said, negative kudos for most of the dialogue. Especially, as an esteemed colleague of mine pointed out, their inclusion of regarding Porthos’ name as being the same name that as “Fourth Musketeer” has, when the REAL Fourth Musketeer was D’Artagnan. Not the worst, most unforgivable mistake ever, but a mistake that a smidge of research might have fixed.

Nevertheless, Breslin’s escape attempt takes a turn for the worse after he realizes he’s on an seafaring vessel and after coming to the conclusion that he’s fairly screwed, he tries to use his safe word to leave. That’s when the proverbial shit hits the fan and he grasps the concept that he’s not getting out anytime soon. The worst part is somebody PUT HIM THERE and therefore wants him to never ever, ever see the light of day ever again. Uh-oh. Ray Breslin’s day just went from crappy to super-crappy.

From this point on, the rest of the film is not as fun as the first half, but it IS more like a traditional

Prison cells hold aging actio stars in "Escape Plan"

When Stallone and Schwarzenegger decided to reopen Planet Hollywood, they had no idea THEY”D be the ones on display… duh, duh, duh!

action film. A lot of fisticuffs and shoot-outs occur in the film’s final act, but the most entertaining segments occur in the first half’s set-up portion. That’s when Schwarzenegger is having the most fun, but the second half is where Caviezel really shines – so, take your pick. You can either leave early or come late. Just don’t expect to have an unforgettable action experience from beginning to end.

The most puzzling aspect of “Escape Plan” is the sheer amount of talent that’s involved with the project.

Director Mikael Hafstrom has had some success in the horror field before this film (“1408,” “The Rite“). So, why did he all of a sudden switch to the action genre. It’s kind of the same way I feel about James Wan’s decision to leave horror behind and take on “Fast & Furious 7.” Why fight it? If you’re good at something, stick with it. See how far you can take the genre, ya know. It’s a little bit of a waste of talent, if you ask me. Hafstrom does an admirable job with the action sequences, but he was so good when facing the challenge to portray the supernatural world in a cinematic way. I hope he returns to scaring the audience one day, instead of making them pump their fists. Just saying is all.

As far as the acting goes, I mean, Stallone and Schwarzenegger are, by no means, stellar thespians, but they were big names at one point in their career and their star power (while severely diminished) still sells a few tickets on a global scale. That being said, it’s the names included in the supporting cast that puzzles me. I loved Caviezel in his role, so he’s exempt. The role was just too juicy to pass up. Vinnie Jones’ portrayal of nasty prison guard Drake is fine too, considering Jones is just a one-dimensional, glorified thug in most of his films and this one is no different. It’s watching talented actors such as D’Onofrio, Ryan and Sam Neill (who plays the tormented Dr. Kyrie in a nothing part) slog their way through the muck and the mire of this forgettable action film, that really shocks me.

D’Onofrio plays the role of the snakelike Lester perfectly, but there’s no payoff in the end. The same goes for Ryan, who was so good in The Wire, but who’s character in “Escape Plan” is nothing but cannon fodder in Stallone’s war to spit out a comprehensive sentence that we can all understand. Neill’s character is the most unremarkable however. I guess he must’ve been going through a period in his career when he wanted to do a few projects with a prison setting and when Alcatraz was cancelled on FOX, he took this role to fill a void… or something along those lines. I assume his portrayal of Dr. Kyrie, and his struggle with the Hippocratic Oath, is meant to draw sympathy for the staff that runs “The Tomb,” but merely draws confusion

Sly and Arnie go back-to-back in "Escape Plan"

This is what it’s like when your films don’t make enough money anymore… you get sent HERE.

and blank stares from the audience. Why does this man have a conscience? Why does he want to help? In the end, these questions go unanswered. Which is a shame, because a character arch with a brief explanation, as to why the good doctor feels so guilty, would have been a nice addition to the story.

Again, if you want poignant cinema with real life issues, go see something else. If you want to laugh a few times at the implausibility of some of far-fetched action sequences (not to mention, if you get a kick out of chuckling at Arnie’s weird, stretched-out facial expressions when he gets beaten with billy clubs), as you are treated to a hybrid version of “Birdman of Alcatraz“-meets-“The Rock”  -meets- “Prison Break,” then you should definitely shell out the bucks to see “Escape Plan.”

Just make sure to plan your escape from your theater seat about an hour in and you’ll be fine.

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