You want a movie about Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger locked in a superprison to go one of two ways. You want it to be fist-pumpingly awesome or you want it to be so incredibly cheesy and bad that you can snicker your way through. Escape Plan takes a third path, making itself so bland and mostly okay that you want to do something else, like fold laundry or calculate your taxes, while you’re watching it.
The premise: Stallone is an expert at breaking out of prisons, and he uses that expertise to help escape-proof other people’s jails. He has a team that includes Amy Ryan as his old flame and 50 Cent as his computer expert (!!!!!!!!!!!), but don’t worry about them, because they have nothing to do in the entire movie and could have been completely cut out without impacting almost anything at all. Also on his team is Vincent D’Onofrio, who you couldn’t cut out and you wouldn’t want to anyway because he does the whole role in the most ridiculous accent. It’s wonderful.
Stallone gets hired to escape from this ultra-escape proof CIA blacksite prison, but it soon becomes clear the whole thing was a set-up. His safe words don’t work and the warden he thinks should be in charge isn’t there. Instead it’s Jim Caviezel, the other character actor doing extraordinarily cheesy work. Sadly Caviezel and D’Onofrio don’t have any scenes together, but if they did this whole movie might have been worth it. Caviezel’s warden is a snarling, evil, slimy jerk and the former Jesus really relishes every moment of Snidely Whiplash nonsense the crummy script gives him. It’s like he’s getting actual nutrition from the scenery.
In prison Stallone befriends one of the inmates, a man named Arnold Schwarzenegger. Together they begin hatching a plan to get out of there, and none of it is as interesting as you would hope. The prison seems like it could be cool - the guards all wear matching featureless black masks and have stun batons, and all of the cells are see-through plexiglass cages, giving everything a scifi sheen - but once its big secret is revealed it’s not that interesting.
What is interesting is how good Schwarzenegger is in this movie. This is another one of those films where Stallone just beefs and greases through the frame, but Schwarzenegger is actually creating a character. What’s more, he has a scene where he acts his ass off, even if it’s a scene where the character himself is acting his ass off (giving Arnie a good distance from real vulnerability). The scene has Arnie trapped in a punishing hot box (like Cool Hand Luke, but fewer eggs) where he’s ranting and raving in German. It’s great! He has chops! And as he gets older and the physical stuff seems more and more painful for him - Sly and Arnie have a fight scene where you can just smell the Ben Gay - it’s nice to see that he has this range.
I wish Escape Plan had leaned more towards the scifi. Or that it had actually created an escape scenario that required multiple characters; the script by Miles Chapman and Jason Keller feels like it once had a multi-man heist vibe, but the finished film is a two-man show, with a couple of guys around to get killed. The film itself is blandly directed by Mikael Håfström, who came to America some years ago to make a string of largely anonymous mid-range movies.
Escape Plan is entertaining enough to keep it from being ‘bad,’ but there’s so little different or interesting or truly engaging that it’s not very good either. This is as beige a movie as you could expect (although it’s all steely blue, really). It’s a pity, because there’s so much potential in this concept and these two leads, but it’s all wasted.