Arriving two decades past its expiration date, Escape Plan would like everyone to drink the spoiled milk and forget that Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger are now senior citiens.
Eschewing jokes about their respective ages — officially, Stallone is 67 years of age and Schwarzenegger is 66 — and pretending that the actors are in peak physical form, the film blithely posits that they are muscle men locked up in a maximum security prison, location unknown, for reasons unknown. Stallone has spent the past seven years testing the federal prison system, allowing himself to be incarcerated, and then attempting to escape. It seems he has been successful every time, enabling the private security firm he co-founded to charge $2.5 million for a job that may last several months.
But now somebody wants him locked up forever, so he has to break out to find out!
Escape Plan cries out for a tagline like that, best intoned by a baritone voice that rumbles like thunder. To go by the evidence on screen, both Stallone and Schwarzenegger appear to be years younger than what they are — no fair cutting open their bodies to count the rings on their intestines — so the willful wish fulfillment that the two biggest action stars of the 80s and early 90s has a basis in a faux-reality that is achieved by tasteful makeup and, especially, very kind lighting and glamour photography by Brendan Galvin (Mirror Mirror, Immortals).
Mikael Håfström, a once-promising talent from Sweden (2003’s Evil, 2004’s Drowning Ghost) who has shown flashes of inspiration in English-language genre fare such as Derailed, 1408, and The Rite, seems to have been defeated by the lackluster material cooked up in the screenplay, which is credited to Miles Chapman and Jason Keller. The structure is sturdy enough, but the dialogue is noticeably absent the wisecracks needed to leaven the potential burden of a prison that is meant for individuals deemed dangerous to the U.S. government. Stallone and Schwarzenegger speak their lines with a comic rhythm that is all set-up and no pay-off; too often they deliver a rejoinder that falls completely flat.
A pervasive sense of torpor envelops the film. In part, that’s because it should have been set in the 1980s, which would have allowed those concerned about Stallone’s character to prowl around the outwide world, rattling cages — or, at least, expend some shoe leather — tracking down answers to how their boss and friend has disappeared entirely. Instead, the modern-day setting requires that the extremely capable Amy Ryan, and also the less capable but game Curtis ’50 Cent’ Jackson sit in front of computer screens and type.
Within the prison, the production had the good sense to hire Jim Caviezel and Sam Neill to play the sadistic prison warden and sympathetic doctor, respectively. Yet the two extremely talented actors are given nothing interesting to do; the warden must not be too evil and the doctor must not be too kind, for reasons that are never explained. This “creative” decision drain whatever possibility of drama might have been drummed up if they were allowed to display a wider range of emotion.
At various points of their careers, Stallone and Schwarzenegger have been perfectly willing to make fun of their most famous personas. Here they play it (almost) absolutely straight, as though they were still younger men who did not need to be doubled in every scene involving a fight and/or any type of strenuous physical activity. Their spirit is willing but their flesh is weak, which is exactly what we would expect from anyone their age.
There is no shame in growing old, and why Escape Plan pulls the wool over its own eyes is mystifying. Let us celebrate the wrinkles and the liver spots and the gray hair, and allow senior citizens to kick ass with their brains rather than their brawn. And let us especially leave behind tired action movies that pretend to be something they are not.
The film opens wide across the Metroplex on Friday, October 18.