Sly’s been there before (in Lock Up and in Tango and Cash) and now he’s back doing hard time. But on this occasion, he’s there on purpose. Heading an only-in-the-movies security firm used by the US government to test its toughest federal prisons, Ray Breslin (Sylvester Stallone) is a master escape artist. If there are any cracks in the system he’s the guy who can find them. With a false identity and criminal backstory, Breslin poses as Spanish terrorist Portos. He allows himself to be captured and then sequestered in a unique hi-tech, and supposedly inescapable, prison nicknamed ‘The Tomb’. (Formerly known as The Tomb, this was re-titled thus condescending audiences with a name that can mean nothing other than, THIS FILM IS ABOUT A PRISON BREAK. The poster image of Sly and Arnie sat in adjacent cells was clearly not enough of a clue for audiences.) Once inside, Breslin befriends Rottmayer (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and they join forces to break free.
The film starts well with an inventive prison break displaying Breslin’s talent and setting things up nicely for the big one. Unfortunately, ‘The Tomb’ itself is spectacularly underwhelming. The glass cells look interesting enough but much of the production design is woeful. Anyone who’s watched Oz knows that a modern prison relies on bare minimalism. In Escape Plan there are swathes of extraneous hardware everywhere, all screaming out to be appropriated as weaponry or escape implements. It also looks rather cheap. The action itself is ho-hum. I don’t think we can blame director Mikael Håfström. He’s not without talent. He displayed imagination and resourcefulness with 1408. Escape Plan’s key problem is a duff script, lacking in so much invention that make prison breaks compelling. It’s so unoriginal that a key reveal is lifted from Face/Off.
Sadly, the dream pairing of the two action icons is not exploited sufficiently. The only thing going for the film is the nostalgia element. But alas, the mere sight of Arnie and Sly sharing screen time is far less than thrilling. It’s the movie equivalent of a Rolling Stones album post-1981. For both stars, the physicality was a huge part of their screen personas. Here however, the muscles are kept discreetly from view. With both Arnie and Sly rapidly approaching 70 this is probably a good thing that the shirts stay on throughout. Instead, they are required to rely more on their acting ability. (Of which neither were ever particularly renowned.) So between the bursts of action what we have is simply a couple of big lumps mangling dialogue. It results in something tired and a little bit depressing. There just seems very little point in any of it.
The two stars are supported by some decent acting talent - Amy Ryan and Vincent D’Onofrio are on Breslin’s team, Jim Caviezel chews scenery as the evil warden and Sam Neill really slums it in a tiny role as the prison doctor. They are also supported by some less-than-decent talent. Vinnie Jones makes little impact as a sadistic guard and charisma vacuum, Curtis ‘50 Cent’ Jackson is out-acted by the furniture.
There’s nothing wrong with action veterans staying in the genre. Clint Eastwood has proved time and again that it’s possible, but he always plays his age. Escape Plan makes little acknowledgement of Arnie and Sly’s antediluvian status. If you inserted say, Jason Statham and The Rock into the respective leads you wouldn’t need to change a single word in the script. (And the movie would probably have been a lot more fun.) It doesn’t bring to mind the two stars’ heyday, more the straight-to-video cannon of Jean-Claude Van Damme or even Dolph Lundgren. If you enjoyed The Expendables or The Last Stand you’ll probably get a kick out of this. But really, you’d have a lot more fun re-watching Tango and Cash.