Film Review: Escape Plan

Double-crossed security expert plots escape from a high-tech prison in a workmanlike Sylvester Stallone vehicle.

As generic as its title, Escape Plan is the movie equivalent of junk food—tasty enough until it's not, and with almost no nutritional value. Featuring two wizened action stars in their first prolonged pairing, the movie meets minimal genre requirements without adding much to the cinematic canon. On the plus side, Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger are canny survivors who know a thing or two about commanding a screen. They make Escape Plan a guilty pleasure for much of its running time.

Escape Plan is first and foremost a Stallone vehicle, and the actor continues his frankly amazing career renaissance with another assured performance in a smartly tailored role. This time he's security expert Ray Breslin, partners with Lester Clark (Vincent D’Onofrio) in a security firm that scouts prison clients by pointing out the flaws in their procedures and safeguards. Translation: Disguised as an inmate, Breslin breaks out of wherever he's held and then lectures wardens on their mistakes.

When Breslin is double-crossed on his latest assignment, he finds himself inside The Tomb, a secret and illegal prison run by Hobbes (Jim Caviezel), a sadistic warden with a grudge against the security expert. Cut off from his staff, including rapper 50 Cent as a computer expert and the delightful Amy Ryan as an acerbic Girl Friday, it's up to Breslin to find a way out of a facility built around his own theories and principles.

The movie is well underway before Breslin encounters fellow inmate Emil Rottmayer (Arnold Schwarzenegger), who is being held in the hopes that he will rat out international terrorist Victor Mannheim. The two form a grudging partnership as Breslin plots a way out of The Tomb.

Will they succeed? With a title like Escape Plan, they'd better. What's more interesting is watching how two former superstars adapt to age and shrinking expectations. Stallone plods on as if it were still the 1980s. Although it seems like he can barely turn his head, he gives 100 percent, and he's not afraid to look bad if it helps the part. He's also a smart enough moviemaker to cut back his lines and give room to other actors.

Also aware of his limitations, Schwarzenegger seems looser than in the past, more willing to shed his aura of invincibility. He gets a better role than his co-star and also delivers the film's best line ("You hit like a vegetarian").

But viewers will have to face facts. Stallone is 67, Schwarzenegger a year younger, and the two simply can't pull off the kind of action scenes they did 25 years ago. You might wince when they run across a set or climb a ladder. But Stallone can still throw a (movie) punch, and Schwarzenegger wields a (prop) machine gun like no one else in the business.

And although it looks and sounds like earlier vehicles like Lock Up or Eraser, Escape Plan takes some surprisingly liberal stances on waterboarding, rendition and religious freedom.