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Escape Plan (2013)
Tonight's Feature Presentation

ESCAPE PLAN (2013)

Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jim Caviezel, Sam Neill, Vinnie Jones, Amy Ryan

Written By: Miles Chapman (also story), Jason Keller Directed By: Mikael Hafstrom

The Short Version

After 30 years, Sly and the Governator finally get a double bill.

Escape Plan pushes most of the classic action buttons…

…but like its leading men, it also displays some post-90s maturity.

Well paced with a decent frame and more polish than grit.

If you loved the Golden Age of Action, of course you want to see Escape Plan.


The Long Version

What Kind Of Cheese Is It?

PROVOLONE.

Decent cheese that makes for a tasty snack without any really sharp corners.


Pairs Well With...

AMSTEL LIGHT.

Not too heavy, goes down smooth.

“You hit like a vegetarian!”


Here it is, Golden Age Action fans: the movie we’ve been waiting on for almost thirty years, give or take.  It had been talked about forever, but whether due to rivalry or scheduling conflicts, it never managed to materialize.  We’ve been teased by cameos of various lengths in the Expendables flicks, but that’s not quite the same as a full-on double bill, is it?  Of course not.  But now our patience has been rewarded, and Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger finally get to share top star billing in Escape Plan.

One might even dare to jinx it by suggesting that to a certain niche audience (myself being a part thereof), Escape Plan could be called “highly anticipated.”  And we all know what that usually means, don’t we?

Good news, folks: it doesn’t suck!  Indeed, it’s fairly decent when measured by old school standards… set by films that cost about 15% the price to make.  Then tempered to reflect a measure or two of maturity.

Don’t panic.  It’ll be okay.  You just need to walk in with the proper set of expectations, that’s all.

If those expectations were set by The Expendables, you need to try again.

If those expectations were set by, say, Death Warrant (which I know is a Van Damme flick, but we’ve got a similar story happening from the right era), that’s much better.

Escape Plan is not a balls-to-the-walls, blood-and-guts action extravaganza.  There aren’t very many explosions.  Hand to hand combat is definitely there, but it’s more on the order of brawl than flash.  Gunplay happens, but most of it – including the signature shot of Arnold Schwarzenegger letting loose with a heavy machine gun after he gets to the choppa – is saved for the climax.  This isn’t to say that the movie is slow – far from it – but rather that that it proceeds in a measured fashion at a constant, unrelenting pace that still allows the audience to breathe.  Think of it as a slightly mellowed, flavorfully mature variant on the middle-of-the-road action flicks that were the bread and butter of the Golden Age of Action Flicks during the 1980s and early 1990s.

I said don’t panic.  It happens to work pretty well.

It works primarily because of the pace that’s set by director Mikael Hafstrom, which is dead solid perfect.  I almost hate to admit this (mainly because I would have liked to have seen more with Amy Ryan, who leaves an impression with precious little screen time), but we’re looking at a margin of three minutes more or three minutes less being able to knock the whole thing off kilter.  Because the story never comes to halt, the audience never really has a chance to get bored or notice the fact that hey, there really aren’t that many explosions here.  Hafstrom also does an excellent job of making the intellectual action of our heroes using their heads to figure out how to get out of predicaments play exactly like physical action.

Yes, I said “intellectual action” in the context of a Sly and Arnold flick.  I’m guessing that term probably wouldn’t have come up if they’d gotten together back in the 80s, but it definitely fits here.  After all, it’s not like either one has a tank conveniently parked inside of his prison cell with which to bust out of the joint.

Hey, I said they don’t have a tank.  Calm down.  Instead, they’ve got to think their way through things, and they play the scenario convincingly – especially Stallone, whose character of prison security and breakout expert Ray Breslin gets to do most of the onscreen thinking.  Not to worry, both men are still convincing in fights and other physical sequences (again, especially Stallone, who seems to have aged slightly better), but again, this is a story of balance and pacing, not explosions.

And yes, there is a real story here.  As one would expect from a midrange actioner like Escape Plan, that story plays in a pretty straight line that’s easy to follow; what you might not be expecting is the fact that it manages to makes sense from start to finish without any major holes or jumped sharks to deal with.  The first twist is easy to spot from a hundred miles off; those that follow are fair game, and easily left as surprises for those too busy being entertaining to think ahead… which is exactly how this game is supposed to work, isn’t it?

It also helps to have some decent supporting players backing things up.  Jim Caviezel makes for quite the grimy villain, and Vinnie Jones draws no complaints as his right hand blunt instrument.  As noted, Amy Ryan leaves you wanting more (in a good way), while Vincent D’Onofrio is always guaranteed to make himself memorable.  Sam Neill seems to have come out of left field to play what amounts to a rather small (but important) part, but I’m certainly not going to argue with a good choice.  As for “50 Cent”… let’s just call that inconsequential stunt casting.

If you haven’t figured it out already, I did indeed enjoy Escape Plan, and I’m very glad to have seen it in a theatre.  (They’ll only make more of these flicks if we show up and pay for them.)  I also don’t mind that it takes a more “thinking man’s” approach instead of going more balls-to-the-walls; after all, that’s more appropriate to the story at hand.  But…

I can’t help but think of it as a little too crisp.  The 80s and 90s had grit; Escape Plan has polish.  The one liners happen in the right spots and they work, but the air of spontaneity that drove the party atmosphere of those old Golden Age wonders seems to have stopped off at a Starbucks somewhere.  I like the movie, it’s good, I had fun, but a party?  That, this is not.

So for those of you – for those of us – who’ve been waiting since the 1980s for the first real double bill to feature both Sly Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger, take a breath before you go in, and remember what over-anticipation gets you.  Escape Plan isn’t the rowdy blast it almost certainly would have been two decades a hunk of change ago, and it’s not Expendables Lite.  Escape Plan is its own movie, and should be treated as such.

Bottom line, walk into Escape Plan with the right kind of expectations, and you’ll be rewarded for it.

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- Reviewed by Ziggy Berkeley, October, 2013


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