Released: 18 October 2013
Director: Mikael Håfström
Distributor: Summit Entertainment
Budget: $54 to 70 million
Stars: Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jim Caviezel, Vinnie Jones, and Vincent D’Onofrio
Ray Breslin (Stallone) is the world’s foremost authority on escaping supermax prisons; however, when he’s double-crossed and thrown into the most impenetrable prison ever, the Tomb, he must team up with fellow inmate Emil Rottmayer (Schwarzenegger) in order to escape the supposedly inescapable facility.
Throughout the eighties and the nineties, Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger had something of an intense professional rivalry going on; with both best known for their action movie roles, the two musclebound actors frequently clashed over body counts, box office receipts, and caused each other to make some significant career blunders before finally coming together to launch Planet Hollywood and collaborate on the Expendables trilogy (Various, 2010 to 2014). Originally a spec script that was rumoured to be a vehicle for fellow actor star Bruce Willis, Escape Plan brought these two heavy-hitters together in a significant collaboration for the first time which, most likely, contributed to the film’s impressive box office gross of just shy of $140 million. Critical reception may have been mixed but that didn’t stop the production of two direct-to-DVD sequels that I’ll also be covering over the next two Fridays.
To help sell the concept of the film, and Ray’s abilities as a master escape artist, Escape Plan begins, appropriately enough, with Ray in a prison and concocting an elaborate and multifaceted escape plan; immediately his nigh-impossible adaptability, psychological, and physical aptitude is emphasised for all to see as Ray goes to great lengths to ingratiate himself into prison society and learn the strengths, weaknesses, and routines of the system, its guards, and its inmates. Ray is able to exploit even the smallest flaws thanks to his keen eye, attention to detail, and commitment to his craft; he’s a master psychologist and an extremely intelligent and attentive individual, which is a nice change of pace for Stallone, who is often unfairly typecast as a bit of a meathead.
Of course, Ray is physically capable of holding his own as well, and he needs to be considering most of his plans to learn a prison’s systems or affect his escape involve getting into fights with other inmates and guards or a great deal of physical exertion on his part. When the chance arises to test the Tomb’s facilities, Ray’s team is immediately sceptical given the shady nature of the entire operation; Ray, however, cannot pass up the chance at a new challenge for his abilities and agrees to go against all of his usual safeguards to take on the job. Ray’s team is comprised of his partner and friend Lester Clark (D’Onofrio), his point-man Hush (Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson), and Abigail Ross (Amy Ryan), each of whom exhibit a sense of pride and confidence in their reputation and abilities to escape from even the most secure prison facilities thanks to Ray’s unparalleled reputation. Although they, in different ways, assist with Ray’s escape attempts, Ray’s breakouts are largely a result of his own unique set of skills and abilities rather than solely relying on outside help.
Once he realises that he’s been setup, Ray immediately puts his expertise to use in plotting out an intricate escape plan; at first, he is determined to follow through with this in his usual style, relying on little more than his skills and wits to find a way out but, very quickly, he’s forced to adapt to the Tomb’s complex structure and into forging a shaky alliance with the overly friendly Rottmayer. Seeing Schwarzenegger and Stallone finally sharing some significant screen time together is a blast and, unlike their awkward exchanges in The Expendables 2 (West, 2012), the two have some amusing and engaging rapport going on. Schwarzenegger, in particular, seems to be having a blast as Rottmayer, exuding a variety of different, uncharacteristic emotions and humour while still engaging in some brutal and gritty fight scenes.
The Tomb is overseen by Warden Hobbes (Caviezel), a malicious and sadistic individual who is unimpressed and personally insulted by Ray’s reputation; alongside his equally sadistic and aggressive head guard, Drake (Jones), Hobbes enforces a strict and brutal code throughout the Tomb that severely punishes and tortures any inmate who fails to fall in line or dares to defy his authority. Hobbes is a slick and conceited villain, mixing up the standard “guy-in-a-suit” cliché with a cruel mean streak and a stoic implacability towards his actions, Drake, in comparison, thoroughly enjoys trouncing the inmates and treating them like animals.
Of course, the big twist of Escape Plan is that the entire thing is a setup by Lester to eliminate Ray and that the Tomb is actually a complex floating prison; once Hobbes becomes aware of Ray’s true identity, he begins a systematic plan of torture and cruelty towards Ray in an effort to break his spirit and uncover the information he requires about the elusive Victor X. Mannheim. While it appears as though Hobbes is successful in physically and mentally breaking Ray, his determination remains steadfast thanks to his stubbirn nature and unlikely support from Rottmayer.
Naturally, one of the highlights and main appealing factors of Escape Plan is the rare opportunity to see two of the biggest action stars in the world interact with each other. Ray and Rottmayer have an amusing and entertaining love/hate relationship where they join forces out of necessity and trade humorous barbs (“You hit like a vegetarian!” is a notable standout for me) as well as punches on numerous occasions not out of any malicious intent but as part of Ray’s elaborate plan to learn the layout and specifics of the Tomb. Rottmayer’s initial amiable attitude towards Ray and eventual, reluctant agreement to numerous stints in the tortuous solitary cubes is all motivated by the fact that he is secretly Mannheim and behind Ray’s hiring. Still, this is an uncharacteristically subdued role for Arnold, who emits a quiet confidence and warmth while also being pragmatic, witty, and physically imposing when required.
The reluctant friendship between the two extends even further to other inmates of the Tomb, including the initially antagonist Javed (Faran Tahir); Javed, who is a long-time rival of Rottmayer and his gang, clashes with both on numerous occasions but, ultimately is turned into another ally when Ray is able to cobble together enough of a practical escape plan but requires considerable assistance to bring this into effect. This also includes appealing to the better nature of the jaded Doctor Kyrie (Sam Neill) in order to acquire all the knowledge and tools he needs to escape.
Of course, being an action/thriller starring two of the biggest action stars in the world and Vinnie Jones, Escape Plan has its fair share of action and fight scenes; it’s not as loud and bombastic as many of the two’s previous efforts, instead emphasising a more gritty and brutal kind of violence, but it nevertheless gives its musclebound stars a chance to show off what made them so famous in the first place. The staged fight between Ray and Rottmayer is a particular highlight of mine as is the inevitable showdown between Ray and Drake, which is a particularly violent and hard-hitting confrontation that ends with Drake taking one hell of a fall down some stairs and to his well-deserved death. Hobbes, of course, doesn’t offer much in the way of a physical threat but he has some pretty tight and formidable security and makes an impression with his cold, conceited attitude; he also isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty, which directly leads to his explosive end as the two make their dramatic escape.
Escape Plan may not be the greatest film of Stallone and Schwarzenegger’s career, and arguably came about twenty years too late to really capitalise on the two’s star power, but it’s far from the worst, too, and still has a great deal of appeal thanks to the unique and rare opportunity to see the two stars collaborating. It’s a relatively run of the mill concept that I’m sure has been done a few times before but elevated through their star power, the intensity of Caviezel, and the rapport between Stallone and Schwarzenegger. Fans of either man, and action/thrillers in general, should find a lot to like in Escape Plan and I’d say it’s well worth your time as it’s a great way to spend a lazy afternoon.
What are your thoughts on Escape Plan? Which were you a fan of back in the day, Stallone or Schwarzenegger, or were you a fan of both? Would you have liked to see the two team up during their prime or were you satisfied with the product we got? Would you like to see the two join forces again in the future? Are you a fan of prison escape films; if so, feel free to recommend them down in the comments, along with any other opinions you have. Also, be sure to check back in next week for my review of the sequel.