This is the kind of movie we’ve been missing since the 1980s, when Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger were at the peak of their powers. Not dour, over-the-top movies like “The Expendables” or retreads like “Predators.” In Hollywood’s attempt to make explosions louder and destruction bigger, a sense of fun and a little wink-wink to the camera has been lost along the way. To paraphrase the tagline from Stallone’s “Cobra,” if that is the disease, “Escape Plan” is the cure.
Ray Breslin (Stallone) spends his life breaking out of prisons thought to be unbreakable. He wrote the book on it. Literally. When the CIA asks him to test out a new, secret prison, Breslin is leery at first. All of the protocol he follows to make sure he won’t be stuck in jail the rest of his life will be removed. But, in the end, he agrees. Soon after arriving in the prison, he learns someone paid a lot of money for him to be whisked away to “The Tomb,” a prison based entirely off Breslin’s work. Along with another prisoner, Emil Rottmeyer (Schwarzenegger), he must use all of his wits to find a way out and make whoever is behind his imprisonment pay. Because that’s what Stallone does. He makes the bad guys pay for their wrongdoing.
Tagging along for the ride is one of the most random and accomplished casts for an action movie in a long time. Jim Caviezel, aka Jesus from “Passion of the Christ,” is the prison’s warden, Academy Award nominee Amy Ryan is Stallone’s love interest and co-worker, Vincent D’Onofrio is Breslin’s Purell obsessed boss, Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson Breslin’s computer genius and Sam Neill (!!!) is the prison doctor. After getting over the shock of seeing so many accomplished actors (and 50 Cent) in the same movie, it soon becomes clear why they’re all in “Escape Plan.” Each and every one of them is having a blast, hamming it up and chewing on scenery like bubblegum, and none moreso than Schwarzenegger, who hasn’t been this fun since James Cameron’s “True Lies.”
“Escape Plan” isn’t perfect. Not even close. Some scenes suffer from clunky writing, especially a few scenes between Breslin and Rottmeyer. But “Escape Plan” nails one thing perfectly: it raises these two action icons above the rest of the cast, making them actual action stars again. Before superheroes saturated the multiplexes, it was larger than life characters like Rambo and John Matrix moviegoers looked up to. “Escape Plan” serves as a reminder that heroes don’t need to don capes or cod pieces to catch our attention. On the spectrum of great action movies starring these two, “Escape Plan” falls somewhere above “Tango & Cash” for Stallone and maybe a hair below “The Running Man” for Schwarzenegger. Not too shabby at all.
Growing up on the films of these two, movies like “Predator” and “Cliffhanger” will always be near and dear to my heart. “Escape Plan” comes the closest of any film in years to rekindling my early love of action films. While it doesn’t reach the heights of their best, the movie is a reminder of what made these two action stars to begin with. In an era of super-serious Jason Statham movies or overblown messes like “Man of Steel,” sometimes a nice reminder is all you need.