Stallone and Schwarzenegger finally teaming up in a big action movie should be a major event, and Escape Plan seemed like it had that potential from the trailer and the general premise. In the right hands, this could have been forged into a highly entertaining and exciting film. Unfortunately, at no fault of Stallone or Schwarzenegger, Escape Plan falters in a lot of ways stemming from the fact that it’s backed by a director, screenwriters, editor, and cinematographer that really have nothing of good, special note to their credits, and that really shows.
Ray Breslin (Sulvester Stallone) is the world’s foremost authority on structural security. After analyzing every high security prison and learning a vast array of survival skills so he can design escape-proof prisons, his skills are put to the test. A new, shady job to test out a CIA prison facility goes awry when he is abducted and incarcerated in a master prison designed based on his analytical work. Once inside, he finds an ally in fellow inmate Rottmayer (Arnold Schwarzenegger) who agrees to help him find a way out. Now, Breslin needs to escape and find the person who put him behind bars.
This is not a bad movie, but it has a number of obvious flaws that prevent it from really capitalizing on its assets. Escape Plan’s problems really begin with the screenplay. I don’t think this movie is very well written, let alone well executed. Firstly, the film becomes so pre-occupied over and over again with showcasing Ray Breslin’s long-winded analyses and exposition of his elaborate escape plan scenarios that it sucks up valuable, extensive screentime for it. Screentime that could have been used to actually establish and develop some characters and personalities in this movie. A good screenwriter could have deconstructed these moments far better and streamlined them for a much snappier, more succinct narrative. Instead, screenwriters Miles Chapman and Jason Keller decide to overcomplicate matters to the detriment of the film. For a while it seemed like Schwarzenegger’s character was merely there to give Stallone someone to dump exposition upon because it was so bluntly handled, and it doesn’t progress too far beyond that. Anyone who has read my reviews before knows how in-depth I go into performances and characters, but there is really next to nothing to comment on about these performances. It’s not a fault of the actors, but the material they are given.
I own a good thirty movies starring Stallone and/or Schwarzenegger with Rocky III and Predator being my respective favorites of theirs. I’ve seen them in great movies and bad movies, but they’ve always delivered on their exceptional charismatic screen presences. Here, there’s just extremely little material for them to inject any charisma into because it is so entrenched in exposition. There are one or two sparks of fun chemistry between them, but it’s very fleeting when that’s exactly what should have been here in abundance. What depth of character we get is merely a few lines of dialogue talking about a single aspect of their back stories, which is just more exposition and doesn’t give us much of a personality to grasp onto. There’s more gained from Breslin than Rottmayer, but it’s very marginal. The fact of the matter is that the script is very flat and unimaginative. If Stallone and Schwarzenegger were not cast in this movie, I don’t think I’d care to maintain any attention on Breslin or Rottmayer at all because the screenwriters do nothing to actually create any characters to care about.
However, even if the characters aren’t all that interesting or dimensional like Marion Cobretti or John Matrix, if the film they are placed into is exciting and entertaining enough with clever, sharp dialogue, it can still work and bring out the better qualities of the actor. Unfortunately, while Escape Plan maintains a solid pacing that doesn’t make it feel like a nearly two hour long movie, the action is very minimal. There are some prison riots, a few beat downs, and an attempted prison break or two, but in terms of straight up action like shootouts and fights with the villains, there’s very little until the climax. The film was a decent, easy watch, but never did anything ever come out and blow me away. There are even points in time where it seemed like it was edging towards something purely awesome, but then, it comes up quite short. So many things factor into that including some poorly structured and executed sequences.
To that point, the editing in many cases is very incoherent. The prime examples are that there are montages of sorts showing Breslin getting tortured, or simply showing his plans going into motion. These sequences are so sloppily edited that I couldn’t understand the narrative or linear flow through them at all. They’re a real mess of chronology that was quite confusing. Tying into that is the flat, bland direction that really never gives life to the proceedings of the plot. Intercutting between The Tomb and Breslin’s team throughout the second act just felt clunky and uneven. There’s little coherency or urgency put into what Breslin’s team is doing to give a crap about them. They ultimately don’t do crap until the last three minutes of the movie, anyway. And those characters are poorly conceived and flatly written to be either very obvious or simply not worth devoting your attention or interest in. Again, the actors aren’t bad, they just have crap to work with. Scenes are just strung together very haphazardly giving you a lack of context, narrative flow, or natural segues. While I’m certain that a better editor couldn’t have radically improved this movie, it at least would have made it far more coherent and smoother.
Now, the only real shining quality of this movie, which is also the one person who seems to be having a delightfully fun time, is Jim Caviezel. His villain of Warden Hobbs is very charismatic, smarmy, and particularly sadistic, but Caviezel avoids going over the top. He keeps it low key and fairly subtle while still delivering an especially enjoyable adversary. He definitely was putting his full commitment into this role, and he embraces it with plenty of imagination and zeal. I love the little nuances he adds to Hobbs such as being very meticulous in his appearance and manner. Caviezel is an actor I really like I lot from The Count of Monté Cristo to Outlander to Person of Interest, and seeing him as a villain here is wonderfully entertaining. He made the movie particularly enjoyable, and Vinnie Jones does quite a charismatic job as Hobbs’ right hand man Drake. There’s also an unexpected appearance by Sam Neill as the prison doctor. He also does a fine job with what little he is given to do. It’s clearly another case of having an actor I really like making the role any bit enjoyable or interesting for me.
Escape Plan attempts to have some semblances of plot twists or turns, but some are so obviously telegraphed or simply amount to nothing that you wonder what the point was. I believe to have a good movie you really have to start with a good script, and this movie didn’t have one. Even then, this film needed a far better, more talented director to maximize its potential. If you handed this project over to a highly experienced action director like Renny Harlin, John McTiernan, Walter Hill, or, if he were still alive, George P. Cosmatos, I think this could have had some potential for success. They would have molded and refined the story and given it the competency and life it needed. They also would have tailored the script to the strengths of it leads so that charisma and personality could have lived and thrived on screen. Alas, we are left with the movie we have, which is probably good for a rental, but not much better. There’s no need to see Escape Plan on the big screen, unfortunately.