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Escape Plan

Directed by Mikael Håfström
Produced by Mark Canton, Randall Emmett, Robbie Brenner, Remington Chase, and Kevin King Templeton
Screenplay by Miles Chapman and Jason Keller Story by Miles Chapman
With: Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jim Caviezel, Faran Tahir, Amy Ryan, Sam Neill, Vincent D'Onofrio, Vinnie Jones, Matt Gerald, and 50 Cent
Cinematography: Brendan Galvin
Editing: Elliot Greenberg
Music: Alex Heffes
Runtime: 115 min
Release Date: 18 October 2013
Aspect Ratio: 2.35 : 1
Color: Color

The best prison break movies appeal because they tell stories of individuals beating the system and are also puzzles pictures, where both the protagonists and antagonists are one step ahead of the audience at every turn. However, this is a relatively limited genre because there are only so many ways to make a prison break feel fresh and exciting. Once you’ve escaped from Alcatraz, what more is there?

Swedish director Mikael Håfström attempts to top all previous films of this genre with Escape Plan, which finally pairs Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger as co-stars in a big action thriller (something the two have been attempting since the mid-80s). The unique twist of the film is that the main character (Stallone) is not a criminal, but rather a professional jail-breaker, paid to test the security of prisons by escaping from them. He and his team (which includes Vincent D'Onofrio, Amy Ryan and 50 Cent) are the-best-of-the-best when it comes to bustin' outa jail. This is a good premise, and a prison break movie only requires three other ingredients to work.

First of all, the prison itself must seem escape-proof, and this is handled well here. Writers Miles Chapman and Jason Keller create a secret CIA lockup for permanently “disappearing” the worst of the worst, and it has been specifically designed around Stallone’s character’s research into the security defects in most correction facilities. The second ingredient is the buddy the hero meets on the inside. This is where Schwarzenegger comes in. It is fun to see these two former blockbuster kings sharing the screen, though it seems less exciting than it might have twenty or thirty years ago. They have some amusing banter, but the relationship isn’t quite as entertaining as I had hoped. Also, they seem to be able to get away with all kinds of traditional prison movie behaviors that would never be allowed if this facility were really the end-all-be-all penitentiary it is made out to be. The last, and maybe most important ingredient of a prison break picture, is the antagonist--usually the warden--which Escape Plan gives us in the form of Jim Caviezel. Unfortunately, Caviezel’s super-warden/prison mastermind and his henchmen don’t posses much in the way of menace and sometimes come off as woefully inept rather than threatening.

My major issue with Escape Plan is that the filmmakers seem to have missed the point of their premise. If this ultra-secure, secret facility has been designed using all the information Stallone’s character has amassed over his career, then the game of the film should be watching Stallone’s efforts to escape get thwarted over and over again by the warden who knows all his tricks. Instead, Stallone seems able to pull off all kinds of things Caviezal never sees coming. It’s almost the inverse of what should happen--as if Stallone somehow knows the ins and outs of facility far better than the man who built it.

In the end, I still might have recommended this movie for its entertaining action and strong cast were it not for the disappointing climax. There is just too much ridiculous and illogical action happening in the third act for me to suspend my disbelief and get the adrenaline rush the film is trying to deliver.