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"ESCAPE PLAN"
(2013) (Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger) (R)

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QUICK TAKE:
Action: A prison security consultant, who specializes in showing how to break out from such facilities, must contend with being imprisoned in a secret, high tech prison from which escape seems impossible.
PLOT:
Ray Breslin (SYLVESTER STALLONE) is a master escape artist, although his line of work isn't as a stage magician. Instead, he's the co-owner -- along with Lester Clark (VINCENT D'ONOFRIO) -- of Breslin-Clark, a firm that specializes in testing the integrity of maximum security prisons. Having now successfully escaped from 14 prisons through his careful observation of every aspect of those facilities, his work has drawn the attention of the CIA that wants him to test their latest high-tech prison.

Ray's employees -- Hush (CURTIS "50 CENT" JACKSON) and Abigail (AMY RYAN) -- don't like the terms of the multi-million dollar offer, namely due to too many unknowns as well as changes in their normal protocol for working such gigs. Undeterred, Ray agrees to take the job, unaware that he's going to be abducted and rendered unconscious, have his tracking chip removed from his body, and be inserted into a prison unlike any he's encountered before.

It's run by Warden Hobbs (JIM CAVIEZEL) who uses his lead guard, Drake (VINNIE JONES), and their various masked and heavily armed guards to keep order in the place. Not only is Ray surprised to learn the warden is a different man than he had been promised by the CIA lawyer, but that his secret code word to be let go means nothing to Hobbs.

Thus, he ends up with the rest of the prison population, including rough-looking prisoners such as Javed (FARAN TAHIR) and Emil Rottmayer (ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER). The latter takes an immediate interest in Ray that makes the latter wary of his motives, but the two soon team up in hopes of finding a way out. With Hobbs and Drake keeping a close eye on them, they utilize any opportunity they can find, including the prison's resident physician, Dr. Kyrie (SAM NEILL), to come up with a plan to escape from the place.

OUR TAKE: 4.5 out of 10
In a recent Access Hollywood story stemming from the press junket for their latest film, stars Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger discussed that people tried for years to get them to co-star together in a movie, but that the script ideas where horrible (including them sort of doing an action version of "Some Like it Hot," and another having them appear in a comedy where they turn from humans into animals).

Apparently, they have high standards and refused until the perfect screenplay came along. You know, some sort of script that would allow them to progress beyond their action hero stereotypes or at least build upon their reputations in some sort of creative way. After all, they were some of the biggest action stars of the 1980s and '90s. But time has passed, audiences have moved on to others, and their recent standalone offerings -- "The Last Stand" and "Bullet to the Head" -- flopped horribly at the box office (they did appear together, in the "Expendables" films, but those were more ensemble, all-star action actor pieces).

And thus they choose..."Escape Plan?" Really? This was the terrific script above all others that got the two to agree to co-star together? And that got the likes of Jim Caviezel, Vincent D'Onofrio, Sam Neil and Amy Ryan to sign on as well? Perhaps the version they read before shooting commenced was fairly different than what appears on the screen, which could explain why one of the screenwriters, Jason Keller, is credited under the Alan Smithee type "I don't want to be identified" pen name of "Arnell Jesko."

To be clear, the film -- co-penned by Miles Chapman and directed by Mikael Hafstrom ("1408," "The Rite") -- isn't awful as it plays out pretty much like any old Steven Seagal or Jean-Claude van Damme "B" movie might have back in the day, with lots of action and a protagonist (Stallone getting the lead role) trying to figure out how to extract himself from a high concept situation.

That would seem easy enough here as we're introduced to Ray Breslin as an escape artist. Not the Harry Houdini kind -- although one could see some inspiration here and there among the related behaviors -- but rather a maximum security prison analyst who puts himself into such facilities to determine if they're easy or not to break out of. He's a pro at doing so, and even details how he does his work (complete with computer graphics representing what he sees, examines and exploits to escape).

Even if you weren't familiar with the basic plotline here, it wouldn't take a rocket scientist -- or prison expert for that matter -- to see where the story is headed. And that is that he'd take another job only to discover he's been double-crossed and now seems trapped in a seemingly escape-proof facility where no one knows his true identity and purpose or believes his allegations of such. Or that the prison warden (Caviezel) will be of the cold and calculating but ready to blow at any moment variety and his head prison guard (Vinnie Jones) will be a sadistic tough guy.

Stallone is okay in the bit, but just seems to be going through the motions, which is too bad as here's yet another example of his wasted talent (the guy can act if you think of the original "Rocky," "Copland" and even the first "Rambo" flick). Schwarzenegger seems to be having more fun, what with the playful glint in his eye, but seems to be acting as if he's in an entirely different movie (it makes sense in hindsight given the big reveal at the end, but his behavior feels off until then).

**BIG SPOILER ALERT**

Where the film really misses the boat, literally and figuratively, is in an earlier reveal regarding the location of the prison. Upon discovery of that, the leads could and should have figured the only way to get out would be to undermine the structure holding the facility. All of which could have resulted in an exciting "Poseidon Adventure" or "Titanic"-esque third act that not only would flow naturally from the plot development, but also provided ample moments of extra action, suspense and yes, even comic relief.

**END OF SPOILER ALERT**

Instead, we get standard moments of action, ranging from various "prison yard" fights to gun battles and such. And, for goodness sakes, if you're going to be doing action and have both Stallone and Schwarzenegger as your leads, at least make the action scenes engaging and enthralling. You can forgive a lackluster script and so-so acting if the action is top-notch, but that level of frenetic escapism is never reached here.

Aside from appearing in any future "Expendables" flicks, time is running out for the leads in terms of believably playing action heroes, what with Sly being 67 and Arnie clocking in one year shy of that. Thus, it's too bad they chose this mediocre flick not only as their first co-starring pic, but also their possible last hurrah in the genre. Not horrible but just bland and predictable, "Escape Plan" rates as a 4.5 out of 10.




Reviewed October 15, 2013 / Posted October 18, 2013


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