Classic! Classic action. Classic one-liners. Classic buddies. Classic action. ESCAPE PLAN is everything that we love about classic action movies and the genres high gods, Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger. And while I am the first one to admit to emotionally orgasmic fun with the Expendables crew, it's about time these two classic action legends join forces together one-on-one and eschew the scenery, muscle to muscle. It's action, story and stars like this that catapulted action to the forefront in the 80's and as with so many things, it's more than wonderful to go back and visit from time to time. The only problem with ESCAPE PLAN is that this is one visit you never want to have end!
Ray Breslin is the best of the best, the "elitest" among the elite, when it comes to prison breaks. The leading authority on prisons, from building to housing to securing to escaping, as one-half owner of B&C Security, Breslin employs his unique talents as a security specialist around the globe. Together with partner Lester and associates Abigail and Hush, Breslin's job is to be incarcerated at various prisons in order to find their vulnerabilities and escape. His escape success rate? 100% . There's not a prison made that Breslin can't escape from. That is until, possibly, The Tomb. A maximum security prison designed to house "the worst of the worst" frm around the globe, The Tomb is allegedly built according to Breslin's own specifications as outlined in his best selling incarcerations for dummies handbook, Compromising Correctional Institutional Security. Although deemed impenetrable, there is only one person who can make that ultimate assessment - Ray Breslin.
Hired at the rate of $5 million, double B&C's usual rate, the terms of this job are a bit different. Always having Abigail and Hush as his outside team ready to extract him at a moment's notice, with The Tomb there will be no contact, no outside team, no form of communication; and, the exact location of the prison will not be disclosed - to anyone. There will only be a prearranged evacuation code, known only to Breslin and the prison warden, Willard Hobbes.
Too irresistible to refuse, Breslin jumps in head first, literally, as he is taken captive in a black ops type operation, disappearing from under the secretive surveillance of Abigail and Hush. On awakening, Breslin finds himself in what appears to be a bulletproof glass cell, stacked multi-level with other similar cells, each housing one inmate, all located in a hive-like, high-tech warehouse structure.
High-security to say the least, guards are garbed all in black, wearing face masks and jackboots, and none have even the slightest hesitation in inflicting torture and pain on inmates at the direction of the sadistic Warden Hobbes, himself an interesting sort. Obsessed with the delicate study and dissection of rare butterflies, Hobbes is a suit and tie wearing, nary a dust speck nor wrinkle on his clothes, germaphobic slice of arrogant evil. As if that's not bad enough, he's been bought by somebody, as Breslin quickly learns when he invokes the evacuation word and Hobbes plays dumb.
With no choice but to find a way to escape The Tomb, Breslin joins forces with fellow inmate, German national, Emil Rottmayer, for a perfect blend of brains and brawn as the two fight to stay alive.
This is the movie event many have long awaited - Stallone and Schwarzenegger together, shoulder to shoulder, toe-toe-toe, punch for punch, line for line. Trust me when I tell you that ESCAPE PLAN proves it was worth the wait. As Rottmayer, Schwarzenegger is at the top of his game. It's been decades since he's had this much fun, and been this funny, as he not only has some of the best lines, his delivery is spot on. Making the performance even more ebullient is that for possibly the first time on screen, Schwarzenegger finally speaks in his native German, going for broke with hilarious expressiveness, knowing that no one has any idea what he's saying.
But then put the former Governator with a very intelligent, calculating, MacGyver-esque, thinking Sylvester Stallone as Ray Breslin and just watch the juices flow. Beat for beat, these two are invincible. And while fight scenes may be a tad slower than in decades past, and limited to specific punches, jabs and holds, the action belies their age while the chemistry and camaraderie reflects their years of experience.
Stealing the show, however, is Jim Caviezel with his take on Warden Hobbes. One look from him is enough to freeze ice. So slickly smarmy with a slightly effeminate touch, Caviezel is delicious. Notable is Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson who is surprisingly believable and comfortable as computer techno-geek Hush, although his talent and character deserves more story and screen time. Vincent D'Onofrio is, as always, one to watch and here as Lester, he provides a slightly smarmy uncomfortable vibe that raises the radar and keeps you guessing until the bitter end. In a surprise casting, Sam Neill pops us as the caring prison doctor, Dr. Kyrie, a man who obviously has something in past that has put him in The Tomb and under Hobbes' thumb. Neill adds an air of mystery not only by playing Kyrie close to the vest, but because it's a big opened question with regard to the character's backstory and "why" Kyrie would aid Breslin.
Written by Miles Chapman and Arnell Jesko, the story is solid and with an interesting liberal spin (considering the political bent of its big guns) that tackles prison privatization, waterboarding and in a real political double-take, Muslim Arabs aiding our heroes. Smartly written, ESCAPE PLAN, takes no prisoners as it delivers exactly what it should without any pretension - a showcase for Stallone and Schwarzenegger doing what they do best. But again, there is intelligence to the character to the prison breakout staging and then surprising reveals with some of the characters.
Directed by Mikael Hafstrom, but for an inexplicable mid-story lull, ESCAPE PLAN keeps jabbing and punching from the opening jailbreak that sets the stage and story for Stallone's Breslin all the way through a climactic showdown between Breslin and Hobbes - with a few surprises thrown in, most notably involving Vincent D'Onofrio's Lester. And Hafstrom never forgets who his stars are, playing on some of their most iconic characters and signature dialogue over the course of their careers. Never funnier is a Commando/Terminator visual of Schwarzenegger that is so delicious you can't help but applaud the touchstone.
Barry Chusid's production design is an exemplary "high tech shabby chic", showcased to perfection thanks to one of my favorite cinematographers, Brendan Galvin. A right-hand to Tarsem Singh on Mirror Mirror and Immortals, as well as proving his abilities in lensing the extremist conditions imposed by man and mother nature with Behind Enemy Lines, with ESCAPE PLAN, Galvin finds a tonal blend of the extremes. From the vibrancy and color of New Orleans, both with office interiors and on the street, to the contrast of the slick, sleek, cool grays and inky tones of The Tomb and stark harsh in-your-face extreme lighting of "solitary cells", the cinematography invigorates and builds tension. Judicious use of one and two shots of Schwarzenegger and Stallone and extensive dutching when lensing Caveziel's Hobbs, are all perfectly framed to draw attention and/or emotion to the audience's eye. In-camera effects are well done and appreciated in keeping with the 80's action hero vibe.
Kudos to the everyone of the stuntmen and women of ESCAPE PLAN and stunt coordinator Noon Orsatti. While there are some wonderfully executed stunts that required rigging, the majority is all hand-to-hand among the principals and "prison inmates". Choreographed so as to implement all spacial areas as well as scene transition carrying from one location through doorways into another area of the prison, action ebbs and flows with dynamic physicality, while allowing Stallone and Schwarzenegger to remain front and center amidst the action.
A big shortcoming is Alex Heffes' score which is lacking in excitement and feels disjointed from the story and action.
Enjoyable to a fault, you won't want to escape from ESCAPE PLAN. Barb-for-barb, beat-for-beat, jab-for-jab, Stallone and Schwarzenegger remind you what made them, and action, superstars.
Directed by Mikael Hafstrom
Written by Miles Chapman and Arnell Jesko (aka Jason Keller)
Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jim Caveziel, Sam Neill,
Vincent D'Onofrio, Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson