Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Thursday, August 25, 2016


Once upon a time, Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger were bitter rivals. As the two biggest action stars of the eighties, they was naturally some competition between them. Stallone himself has commented on how much he resented the Austrian superstar’s success. Eventually, that animosity would cool and the two would become friends. After all, they did launch Planet Hollywood together. Arnold even appeared in supporting roles in Sly’s “Expendables” series. With “Escape Plan,” the two nostalgic titans of action co-starred in a film together. Like many of the throwback action flicks in recent years, the film would flop domestically before becoming a big hit overseas.

Ray Breslin has spent his entire life in prison. On purpose. Breslin is placed into various prisons by the government and is paid to break out of them, exposing exploitable flaws in the system. Thus far, he has managed to escape from every prison he’s been in. For his latest mission, he’s abducted by masked men, placed in a helicopter and wakes up in a seemingly inescapable fortress called the Tomb. The Tomb is a prison based off Breslin's own designs. Teaming up with a fellow in-mate called Emil Rottmayer, Ray faces his greatest challenge, trying to escape the Tomb and avoid its sadistic warden.

It goes to show how astray the movie-going public has gone when a movie starring Sly and Arnold, formerly two of the biggest stars in the world, can underperform domestically. For action nerds, seeing the two stars together is a dream come true. “Escape Plan” acknowledges its leads' mythic status. Stallone’s Breslin is introduced being an intellectual badass. Arnold’s Emil gets a grand introduction. More then once, the film finds an excuse so the two guys can fight. Yet the stars aren’t just cashing paychecks. Sly is engaged with the material, making Breslin a likable guy who is always thinking and scheming. Arnold, meanwhile, is exhilarating. He’s all grins, bringing an impressive energy to the part. A moment, where he rants in German while locked in solitary confinement, is electrifying. (It’s also one of the few times Arnold spoke his native language on-screen.) Moreover, the two are great together, like in the scene where they give humiliating nicknames to the various faceless guards. It’s not high art but it’s clear both performers are having a blast, elevating a screenplay that was already pretty good.

That’s right, “Escape Plan” is surprisingly well written. Oh, it’s ridiculous. You can guess early on which one of Breslin’s associates has betrayed him. The various methods Ray uses to escape are as unlikely as the ones used to imprison him. You have to accept these things. Yet “Escape Plan” is shockingly well structured and paced. Watching the heroes figure out ways around and out of these seemingly inescapable scenarios is compelling. Probably my favorite scene in “Escape Plan” has Ray enacting a convoluted series of events to escape from solitary confinement, pumping bolts with a hand mirror and climbing up the insides of the prison's wall. The reveal about where the Tomb is located is pulled off fantastically. I was half expecting the place to be on the moon or something. Though goofy on its face, “Escape Plan” handles its story seriously, drawing the audience in.

For most of its run time, “Escape Plan” functions more like a thriller, acting solidly within the expected boundaries of the prison genre. There’s the evil warden, the sadistic guards, the rivalries within the block, gang members, and a prison riot before it’s over. In its last act though, “Escape Plan” becomes a joyous homage to the eighties action movies that made Sly and Arnie famous. Stallone is running and gunning through the innards of the prison. He beats up Vinnie Jones. The absolutely best moment in the film occurs when Schwarzenegger picks up a giant machine gun and starts mowing down bad guys. By the end, Sly is cracking one-liners and causing giant explosions. It’s a lot of fun.

Stallone and Schwarzenegger are clearly the stars of the show. However, “Escape Plan” puts together a solid supporting cast. Jim Caviezel plays Hobbes, the warden with a clear grudge against Breslin. Adapting a vocal pattern reminiscent of Christopher Walken, Caviezel has a sinister twinkle in his eye as a comic book-style villain. Vinnie Jones’ guard is introduced beating an in-mate to death. Jones, who has made a career of playing heavies, certainly has no problem playing another vicious psychopath. Sam Neill has a surprise appearance as the prison’s doctor, bringing some gravitas to a nothing part. Vincent D’Onofrio plays another sleazy businessman type, happily hamming it up. The only distracting supporting player is Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson, cast against type as a computer hacker. Fiddy mugs furiously, facially and vocally, totally taking the audience out of the film every time he appears.

Maybe one of the reasons why I like “Escape Plan” so much is because I really didn’t expect it to be good. Plopped down in a non-extraordinary October release, with few positive reviews to its name, it’s not surprising it did poor business here in the States. Going in with few expectations revealed a movie that mixes smart and dumb in the best way, a ridiculous if compelling thriller that transforms into a supremely entertaining action flick. That’s a good thing. It’s less winking then “The Expendables” flicks and clearly isn’t a passion project like Sly’s “Rocky” or “Rambo” revivals. The middle ground between those axises – a really fun pop corn muncher – is an alright place to be. [7/10]

[] Frank Stallone or Frank Stallone-esque Inspirational Music
[X] Incapacitates or Kills Someone With His Body
[] Shows Off Buffness
[X] Social Outcast [New Prison Inmate]
[X] Sweaty, Veiny Yelling


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