Maybe you saw it coming, maybe you didn’t: Escape Plan is a funny buddy movie.
Also, it’s a pretty cool action movie. And it’s a good prison break movie, if that’s even it’s own genre. Shawshank Redemption, Cool Hand Luke, Con Air. Sure it is.
Escape Plan is a movie about planning an escape! Sylvester Stallone plays Ray Breslin, an ex-lawyer who is also a genius in all kinds of other things like metallurgy and engineering and building moon-compasses out of a pen and a pair of glasses – no big deal. He even has a solved Rubik’s Cube on his desk. Neat. He is also the author of what is apparently the textbook on how to build an escape proof prison, because every damn person in the movie seems to own a copy. There’s no way to better illustrate a character’s thorough knowledge of a subject then have them author a book on the subject. Literally.
Breslin gets himself imprisoned and then breaks out for money, which is nicely illustrated in the opening act when we get to see him work his magic on a “starter prison”. Then he gets greedy and breaks all of his own rules (always a bad sign), despite protest from his gal and 50 Cent (Oh yeah, Fiddy is there. He looks nice. You look nice 50 Cent, keep doing what you’re doing, creating vitamin waters or condoms or whatever) and signs on to do a super-secret private prison break out, which he thinks is no big deal but boy-howdy is he wrong!
He is absolutely never ever breaking out of this prison. Before he fully realizes the depths of shit he is in, Ray pals up with Emil Rottmeyer (Arnie) in the yard and they are immediately wise-cracking best buds, working together to outsmart the delightfully evil, butterfly-loving warden (played by Jim Caveeveesivieleviv). Then some next-level conniving goes down, and man, is it juicy. Remember that South Park episode where Cartman tricks that kid into eating a bowl of his parents? That. That’s how juicy the conniving gets.
The action scenes are for the most part enjoyably understated and realistic (I’m pretty sure they debunked that shooting a barrel of gasoline makes it explode on Mythbusters, but who’s counting?). The logistical, sciencey stuff is believably sciencey enough to make me feel like I learned a thing, and if (when) I find myself in a high-security prison I’ll have a trick or two up my sleeve.
There are some intense moments, including a wonderful en Deutsch freakout from Arnie (I thought they outlawed Schwarzenegger speaking German onscreen back in the 70’s. Times are changing).
It’s the comedy, however, that makes this movie fully enjoyable.
Before we go on I have something to admit: I’ve never seen a Rocky movie. The closest I’ve come to actually watching a Rocky movie was a “photovideo” of the first Rocky film I picked up at the thrift store for a dollar. It’s a pocket-sized book which retells the movie line for line with piss-poor-quality stills from the movie and ineptly formatted script imposed overtop. Basically it is a GIF from before GIFs. Its pages are the high-gloss stuff of porn, and reading it in public is shameful and makes you feel people are looking at you like you’re punching a side of beef in an honest effort to get stronger.
Anyways, this “photovideo” makes me laugh and fully conveys the ups and downs of Rocky Balboa’s trials and tribulations. I in no way feel like I have missed out on anything, least of all great acting.
I have vague memories of watching Rambo, or parts of Rambo, as a child. All I can recollect about my feelings towards Rambo is “jungle looks hot, headbands cool”. Demolition Man and Judge Dredd sort of melt into a single indistinguishable ‘splosion in my mind. I know this was Stallone’s future-cop phase and Sandra Bullock may have been in both or neither of those movies, but that’s about it.
However, the prominent mental Stallone reference point for me isn’t one of his own films, but Schwarzenegger’s 1993 unsung masterpiece Last Action Hero. The kid from My Girl 2 tries to convince Arnie he’s an action star by finding the cardboard cutout for Terminator 2 at a Blockbuster, but instead of Schwarzenegger as the iconic cyborg/bodyguard/bestest buddy a boy could want, they find Stallone in his place. GET IT?! (For those of you who did not understand this reference, I believe you can find the film in it’s entirety on YouTube.)
So the point I’m trying to make is that when I think of Sylvester Stallone the actor, the first two things that come to mind are flat, non-speaking non-moving non-acting roles that either aren’t movies or aren’t HIS movies. He’s not the person I think of when “charisma” is mentioned.
Arnold Schwarzenegger however is an indisputable champion of charisma. Ever since Twins in 1988, people (me) have lauded his panache for comedic delivery. Kindergarten Cop, Junior and Jingle All The Way are shimmering gems in what was otherwise a bleak decade in comedy. Arnold Schwarzenegger saying or doing anything is funny.
Despite this perceived imbalance of comedic capacity on Stallone’s part, both actors are given fairly well-crafted one-liners and it makes this movie work. It’s miles above the recent hackneyed throwbacks, which are just jerkin’ it in the mirror. The main actors are stepping forward from the quagmire of past pigeonholes. Stallone steps up and gets funny. He’s having fun. We’re having fun. Everyone in that damn theatre had fun.
When I prodded the two long-haired, bearded and leather-jacketed 40-something dudes at the bus stop about what they thought they laughed nervously and said “it was fun!”. They looked like they would have a lot more to say but nope, that was it. The movie was fun. These guys have probably seen every single movie since Rocky and all they could muster by way of critique was “fun!”. But who cares? That’s what we’re here for, apparently: chuckles.
At one point we get to watch Stallone take a big bite of mashed potatoes from an oversized wooden spoon, which I assume is the utensil of choice on account of the security concerns of the prison, but somehow it’s easy to believe that Stallone takes all of his meals with the preferred utensil of Italian Mamas everywhere. It really brings to light that Stallone had always talked and looked like he’s wrestling down a huge spoonful of mashed potatoes. It’s fun. Schwarzenegger’s shining moment involves some masterfully pantomimed fellatio. Super fun. There is an adorable drawing of a butt. It’s totally fun.
Escape Plan allows itself to weave plenty of fun through what would otherwise be another un-noteworthy, overproduced, overly dark action film with an interesting concept but no soul.
L.C. is a film reviewer for the Spectator Tribune, and will watch anything.