Wednesday, October 23, 2013
The last few years really haven't been lacking in feature film homages to 1980s action craze. Between "The Expendables", "Bullet to the Head", "The Last Stand", and this, if you want an Eighties-style action movie, you are not lacking in opportunities. Just avoid "Die Hard 5" unless you like being miserable. I don't know if this is made from legitimate love of the classic genre of old, or perhaps out of Hollywood's new-found fascination in Old People. Lately there's been an entire genre in Old People Movies, bringing back the actors of a generation ago and seeing if they can continue to do the old genre work. Now we have "Last Vegas", "RED", "Stand-Up Guys", "Parental Guidance", and the upcoming "Grudge Match". Hollywood seems to understand it has an aging audience and is adapting its whole selection to play to the over-fifty crowd.
Or maybe its just because that other than Jason Statham, the world is simply lacking in true action stars like Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger. The whole point of "Escape Plan" is to bring together these two titans in a way that "The Expendables" franchise has only ever danced around. After their individual movies from earlier this year tanked, maybe their combined star power could actually make a dent in the box office? Its certainly enough of a spectacle for me to want to watch, even though they don't ever get a chance to fight. This is more a very non-clever prison escape movie where the main method of fleeing is punching people and shooting dudes.
Luckily however, "Escape Plan", despite not being very well-made or well-written, it actually is a pretty fun movie. Schwarzenegger is really shooting up his A-game on his charm, bringing all he can to elevate mediocre material, and Stallone is still Stallone. The tongue is well in cheek, but the overall experience is still solid enough. You know what you're paying for, and its not bad stuff.
The concept of the film is as ridiculous as you could ask for from an Eighties action film. Stallone is a career prison escapee, secretly entering prisons and escaping in order to show off errors in their security system. Normal operating procedure in this involves not alerting any person in the prison or the local law enforcement, and apparently you're allowed to stab people inside the yard and blow up a car. So its outrageously dangerous and irresponsible on like twelve levels, but he's Sylvester Stallone so who cares? He also somehow gets 2.5 million dollars for his work, which is an insane amount of money to give to an independent advisory company especially considering how rotten and broke our prison system is*. Whatever, its dumb action. This time, however, he has to take on the world's greatest prison. Apparently its a black ops super secret CIA operation for the world's greatest supervillains* - just imagine the prison from "Face-Off" and this is where Stallone has to escape out of. Only thanks to a double cross, he's lost all outside contact and is now locked in there with the rest of the scum. His only help: Arnold Schwarzenegger. Stallone-Schwarzenegger working together to break out of an evil cyber-penitentiary.
What makes "Escape Plan" feel more like a proper love letter to the 1980s than things like "The Expendables" is how excellent the rapport between Stallone and Schwarzenegger is, and how the action scenes are far more limited and reasonable. It takes the entire film for Schwarzenegger to finally grab the giant machine gun and mow down rows of enemies, until they its just a slow planning for the big action climax. Its still dumb and stupid, and proper action exploitation that you'd expect. The movie also gives these characters enough of a tight situation to keep things interesting, this prison really does seem absolutely impossible to break out of. Andy Dupree could tunnel until the Fall of Western Civilization, but its not going to get him anywhere. Genius will get you someplace, but what you really need is muscles, the right connections, and buckets of bullets.
The villain is played by Jim Caviezel, who now that he's finished dying for our sins, has decided to pull together a brilliant slimy Eric Roberts-esque performance. He's completely unlikable from the very first second, with his constant obsessions with little bits of dust on his suit and his utterly hateful arrogance about all things. And its perfect, its a perfect role. Less brilliant is Stallone's friends from the outside, including an African American hacker played by the dreadfully awful 50 Cent. I'm referring to his rapping, its awful. But his acting is also really bad. There are also a couple of females wandering around this movie, but let's be fair, this is manlove story between Schwarzenegger and Stallone.
Its such a shame our society hasn't advanced to the point where there could have been an old man muscled-to-hell leathery sex scene between these two. But I think we still need another decade for that to come to pass.
Conclusion: you want a dumb action movie in the classic vein, "Escape Plan" is as good as you're going to get. The action scenes aren't well-directed, the concept is hilariously awful, but its sincere. Its not trying to be genius, but its trying to be fun. And fun you'll have.
* The movie does a great job managing to dance around the obvious Guantanamo similarities. I don't think acknowledging the government's amazing ability to juggle legal black holes in order to run our War on Terror would have much helped this movie. However, this does mean that Stallone never gets to punch-out Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, which is something of a shame. The Muslims that do show up turn out to be extremely honorable men of faith, incredibly.