Like all civilized and discerning people, I have long awaited the day when Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger would co-star in an action movie. Not like the Expendables movies, in which Arnie is just the monkey to Sly’s organ grinder, but a proper co-starring kind of thing. Well, a few months ago that day finally arrived and I was so excited that I immediately decided to wait till the thing was on DVD before watching it.
In short, Escape Plan is good, dumb fun. That’s really the best way to describe it. The movie has several things going for it – a premise which is, if not wildly inventive, then at least not one that has been done to death, some nice action scenes and, above all, it has Stallone, a man who despite being a Republican twat with one foot in the grave is still highly charismatic. Arnie I can take or leave.
As the movie begins we see our man Sly drawing something or other on the wall of his jail cell. I don’t know what the thing is – a hill with eyelashes? – but I do know that it is better than Sly’s real-life paintings. Soon Sly breaks out of the clink and we discover that he is playing one Ray Breslin, a man in the business of testing jails to make sure they are inescapable for everyone except himself, for it turns out that Sly is playing an acknowledged, bonafide genius! Later on we find out that Arnie is also playing a genius! But it doesn’t stop there, the people in charge didn’t think it was hilarious enough to have both Sly and Arnie playing geniuses, so they decided that a third genius was required and that he should be played by 50 Cent! Yes, folks, it’s an absolute brain trust, this movie…
Anyway, soon as he’s back in the office, Sly gets a new job offer from some chick working for the CIA. This new assignment is to test The Tomb – an unofficial, for-profit, hi tech prison. One of those places where they lock up people who don’t get trials, yet who are somehow proven to be dangerous enough to lock up. ( Though a sensible person might argue that if there is enough evidence to show they are a threat there would be enough evidence to put them on trial and find them guilty.) In other words, it’s a version of Guantanamo – hell, at one point Arnie even gets kinda water boarded! The whole movie could be taken as a criticism of jails like Guantanamo and of America’s for-profit penal system, but with this many Republicans on board I’m just not feeling it. Anyway, Ray’s new assignment sounds thoroughly suspect, right down to The Tomb’s location not being revealed to his partners, yet he still agrees to do the job! Not only that, but he only reluctantly allows his mates to put a transponder in his shoulder! So much for genius…
Of course, the escape plans of mice and Republicans often go awry and Sly first starts to suspect that all is not kosher when he is belted over the head, has the transponder ripped out of his shoulder and sees a man killed by the guards on his way to the secret jail. On arrival at The Tomb he finds that the warden is not the Mr. Marsh that he expected but rather an icy sadist called – I kid you not – Hobbes. Not only that, but the code number that is supposed to bring the whole thing to an end and get Sly an unusually early parole is totally unrecognized by the warden. Ooops, someone has it in for poor old Sly and he is now trapped in – someone has to say it – a Hobbesian nightmare. By the way, this unpleasant warden is played by Jesus Caviezel, who gives what is easily the worst performance in the movie. Everyone else is fine, even Arnie, but poor Jesus just can’t seem to get his shit together and ends up making a total fool of himself. Bland and boring, Hobbes is the kind of villain that can come across as an icy cold psycho but only in the hands of an actor who can handle the job, and Caviezel is not that actor. Speaking of Arnie, he plays a guy called Emil Rottmayer a.k.a The Favor Man, an ex security guy for a lefty, Robin Hood type called Victor Manheim, a.k.a The Guy Plotting To Bring Down The Worldwide Banking System By Messing With Its Computers. Loyal as a dachshund, Rottmayer refuses to tell Hobbes the location of his heroic employer and as a result finds himself entombed with Sly who, unpredictably, soon becomes his best bud.
So now Sly is stuck in the ultimate Supermax and there’s no way out except the hard way. Luckily, the hard way isn’t that hard when the jail has been built – and by “built” I mean “written” – with some convenient flaws. The thing is high tech, there are cameras everywhere, the cells are actually made of glass so the guards can always keep an eye on the prisoners, but for some inexplicable reason there are no audio recording devices in the common areas! Somehow, the people in charge have decided that it is more important to keep an eye on a prisoner taking a dump in private than on a prisoner discussing escape plans out in the open with his fellow captives! As a result of this handy slip-up, Sly and Arnie make most of their plans while just hanging out in the rec space or having disagreements about the quality of the food being served in the secretive hoosegow’s cafeteria – “So now we make ourselves a sextant to find out where we are and then we kill the warden. Pass the ketchup, please.” See what I mean by dumb? After some chicanery and a few punch-ups, both our boys find themselves in solitary. While Arnold distracts Jesus by ranting about his dad, Sly makes his way to the top only to find that they are not underground as he had surmised but on board a gigantic oil tanker and all at sea! This development I liked, it came as a genuine surprise and it isn’t often I can say that of a plot device in a mainstream Hollywood movie.
Realizing that they are in even worse trouble than he thought, Sly decides that this is a job for more than two men and three sounds like a nice round number to him – probably sounds like an even number, as well. Sly decides that the third member of their troika shall be Javed, a weird Muslim guy with a taste for popular culture and setting monkeys free. No, wait, I’ve gotten confused – that’s what you get for watching the first three seasons of Community in just a couple of weeks. This is a different guy, a not so friendly Muslim drug cartel guy, though he does share Abed’s penchant for setting monkeys free, especially when one of the monkeys is himself. There seems little point in this odd choice of accomplice other than to portray the Muslim bad guy as being not so bad after all – PC in a Stallone movie, how about that! This unsavory character manages to use the home made sextant to obtain some readings, which Sly then combines with his surprisingly extensive knowledge of maritime conditions to figure out that the ship is most likely off the coast of Morocco, which is a lucky thing as Arnie just happens to know a guy in Morocco who owes him a big favor!
Soon Sam Neil, who plays the ship’s doctor, a man guilt-ridden at having allowed his career to slip so far as to be playing fourth fiddle to a couple of muscle heads and a Muslim drug dealer, aids the boys by sending a message to the Moroccan guy telling him that his mate Arnie is in a bit of a bother, and soon the jailbreak is on. During this breakout we are treated to yet another bit of idiocy. It turns out that, for some incomprehensible reason, disabling one security camera disables all the others! Why anyone would build what they hope will be an inescapable jail and then make the security cameras so easy to disable is beyond me, but then, I’m not a lazy screenwriter. Things go well for Arnie and he is soon topside and on the helicopter. The Muslim guy, though, gets shot to pieces – but not before Sly tells him that he is a good man in a long, articulate and deeply moving speech that consists almost exclusively of the words “You’re a good man.” Soon after this, Sly finds that some hatch or something has been closed and he is now trapped below. Not to worry, though, as being a genius Sly has a Plan B – namely to do an impression of a 5’6,” 200lb turd. Yes, folks, Sly gets into a tank full of water and has himself literally flushed out of the ship and into the sea – good thing the jail wasn’t on a really big airplane.
Once out of the toilet bowl, Sly gets hold of a gun and while hanging off the escape helicopter uses it to blow up some conveniently placed barrels of oil, causing Evil Jesus to go ka-blooey and proving that Caviezel may make a lousy villain but that he makes a pretty good writhing corpse. After a fairly cool shootout with guards and such, Sly and Arnie find themselves on the golden, malaria-ridden sands of a Moroccan beach where we are treated to another pair of surprises. The first is that the girl from the CIA arranged for Sly to test The Tomb so that he would go in and help Arnie to escape. The second is that Emil Rottmayer is in fact the lefty radical that Evil Jesus was so hell-bent on capturing, despite the fact that he already had! Sly’s character didn’t see it coming and rather embarrassingly neither did I, probably because Arnie is about as far from a lefty genius as it gets. I guess they did a good job of casting someone so against type that it all just flew under my radar. Kind of like casting Tom Hanks as a serial killer – who the hell would see that coming? Not me, obviously. But why was Sly treated so badly while in there? Who could possibly have it in for our man? Democrats? Fans of clear speech? No, it was his own boss, Vincent D’Onofrio, who had apparently been promised the job of Tomb CEO, but only if the thing was indeed inescapable. He gets his, though, as Fiddy knocks him out and traps him in a ship’s container, bound for god knows where. Presumably he will meet a horrible fate – sold as Australian lamb on the halal market, perhaps – but at least he isn’t around to hear what is easily the worst line in the movie. In the very last scene, Sly’s gal offers to make him dinner now that he is safely back on terra firma, to which Sly replies, God help me, “Haven’t I suffered enough?” Bloody hell. Still, that line had one virtue – it was the last one in the movie.
Some of those involved have said that they would like to see this turn into a franchise about the further adventures of Sly and Arnie and I for one would be up for a few more movies starring the world’s favorite geriatric musclemen, though it would be nice if the sequels were smart fun rather than dumb fun. I don’t know how they will find more ways for a man who tests jails for the world’s biggest capitalist state to work alongside a man who is apparently an anti-capitalist radical, but I suppose the writers will find something to more or less justify such an unlikely pairing – as long, of course, as they don’t leave it up to the guy who came up with that last line.