Wednesday, March 26, 2014
A former lawyer turned specialist, Ray Breslin (Sylvester Stallone) is the best in the business. That business? He's inserted into federal penitentiaries and maximum security prisons as a prisoner at large, no one aware of his identity, and devises a way to escape. Breslin has no equals, doing the job for years and helping to improve overall security, earning himself quite the reputation over the years. His reputation has gotten him quite the job offer, a $5 million payday if he can escape from a new, state-of-the-art prison facility that has been deemed 'impossible to escape' from. The background seems a little shaky, but Ray takes the job only to find out he's been duped once he's inside the prison. The warden, Hobbes (Jim Caviezel), has no intention of even giving him a chance to escape, leaving Ray in an impossible situation. His possible out? Help from a fellow prisoner, Rottmayer (Arnold Schwarzenegger) who desperately wants out.
Action movies can't just be action movies anymore, can they? They have to do something different, out of left field, desperately trying to rewrite the genre. Is there anything wrong with a throwback to the 1980s/1990s when it was acceptable for an action movie to have really cool good guys, really despicable bad guys and a lot of mindless fight scenes with some stupid one-liners along the way. That's the formula director Mikael Hafstrom follows in this action flick that earned over $137 million in theaters. Is it particularly good? No, not especially, but if absolutely nothing else, it is refreshing to see a movie like this. Too bad it wasn't better, some really fun, solid moments lost in mostly mediocre moments in a too-long 115-minute long flick.
Come on now. The reasoning I'm guessing 99% of movie fans sought this movie out was the pairing of two of the all-time great action icons, Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger. We're talking Rambo and the Terminator, side by side and pissed at the world. It's the pairing that fans wanted to see for years in the 80s and 90s, finally getting a taste of it with the two Expendables movies. There is a certain cheeseball charm to this pairing of Stallone and Schwarzenegger, screenwriters Miles Chapman and Jason Keller's script giving them plenty of chances to bust each other, make fun of each other and basically argue about anything and everything. It isn't anything that's going to strain any brain activity, but it's fun. Any scene where the duo is together is automatically better just because they're there. They have an easygoing chemistry that reflects two old friends, Stallone the smart-ass straight man, Schwarzenegger the funner, livelier part. Whether it's 1984, 1994 or 2014, it's cool to see these two action icons working together in lead roles.
I wish I could say the same for the rest of the cast. The script's goal is to give Stallone and Schwarzenegger a premise to work with....and that's about it. There's no real development anywhere else. Good = good, bad = bad, and Vincent D'Onofrio = bad because well, it's Vincent D'Onofrio. I don't consider that a spoiler so deal with it. It's cool seeing Jesus himself, um, uh, Caviezel in a bad guy role, hamming it up with steely eyes and a pristine black suit, but we know nothing about him. How'd he end up as warden of a corrupt prison like this? Vinnie Jones plays his enforcer, Drake. Faran Tahir tries to avoid stereotypes as much as possible as Javed, a Muslim prisoner who hates Breslin but may have to work with him to escape. Along with D'Onofrio, Amy Ryan and 50 Cent are Breslin's partners and business associates, wondering if they've stumbled into something surprising. Oh, and Sam Neill is cool because he's Sam Neill.
There was potential here, but moments along the way help derail the story. The script is obsessed with giving Sly and Arnie as many stupid, forced one-liners as humanly possible. I figure they're going for laughs, but the jokes and lines fell short for me. The premise is cool, no doubt about it, an inescapable, perfectly built prison that no one can get out of, and let me tell you, there's a good twist about where exactly that prison is. There's an even bigger twist in the finale that does work in some ways, but again, it feels like such an effort was made to trick the audience and pull the rug out from under us that it loses most of its impact. It's not painfully bad, but it's not as good as I'm sure it was intended.
So what are we left with? Mostly a pairing of Stallone and Schwarzenegger. The action is kept on the backburner until the last 30 minutes, definitely the most enjoyable part of the movie. It's got all those cliches we've come to expect from an action movie, slow motion bullets, bad guys with insanely bad aim, heroes with amazingly good aim, and all those little touches that look ridiculous...in a fun way. A meh movie if there ever was unfortunately.
Escape Plan (2013): **/****