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Review: Escape Plan (2013)

Escape Plan (2013)

Directed by: Mikael Håfström

Premise: A prison expert (Sylvester Stallone) tests the integrity of maximum security penitentiaries by inserting himself into the prison population and attempting to escape. He is recruited by the CIA in order to test a new, off the grid facility but the situation escalates when his true identity is lost.

What Works: Escape Plan is a strange movie in the way it radically shifts its tone. The picture begins as a fairly standard prison break movie and then adds a twist as it is revealed that Sylvester Stallone’s character is a professional escape artist. When he submits himself to the CIA’s facility the movie takes another radical shift. What begins like a heist thriller enters the territory of science fiction movies like THX-1138, 1984, and Minority Report. These shifts in style and tone generally work for the picture and add some unpredictability to what is otherwise a pretty dull movie. The other admirable quality of Escape Plan is its filmmakers’ attempts to take on contemporary issues like extraordinary rendition and the prison industrial complex. The moviemakers don’t have much to say about those issues and they are used more as window dressing than substance but the fact that these topics make an appearance is itself notable.

What Doesn’t: The premise of Escape Plan is absurd. That does not necessarily make it a bad movie—action pictures of this sort usually play fast and loose with reality—but this picture is so ill conceived and so poorly executed that the most extraordinary thing about it is the fact that it’s playing in movie theaters and not on late night cable. The conceit of the story, that the CIA would invite a third party to test their top secret and possibly illegal facility, makes very little sense. Escape Plan gets increasingly muddled as it goes on and the story never answers the basic questions that it rasies. Why is Stallone’s character betrayed by his business partner? Who is Schwarzenegger’s character? What does the warden want? Why do the guards dress like robots from a 1970s sci-fi movie? None of these questions are answered and the filmmakers never give the audience the basic information that they need to understand what they are looking at. Escape Plan is the kind of movie where the twists and turns actually do the movie damage because they unnecessarily complicate the story by heaping on meaningless exposition. Instead of a sympathetic hero with a clear objective, the movie introduces new characters and hints at broader schemes but without ever establishing who these people are or what they want and the film gradually crumbles under the weight of its own haphazard storytelling. Things get worse as the movie goes on and the ending is a frustrating reversal that is supposed to be a big surprise but comes across as a meaningless twist. The inept storytelling is matched by filmmaking that is just as clumsy. The movie has no sense of geography and a lot of the action in this movie does not cut together, both in fights and shoot outs but also in quiet exposition scenes. Escape Plan pairs Sylvester Stallone with fellow 1980s action movie icon Arnold Schwarzenegger but this film has none of the charm of their earlier work or even the eye winking appeal of The Expendables 2. No one in this movie is very good but Schwarzenegger is especially bad here. It is as though these actors knew they were in a loser of a movie and their performances reflect it. When the picture gets to its requisite shoot-out finale, Escape Plan is an underwhelming shadow of the movies that Schwarzenegger and Stallone were making in their heyday and the one-liners and gun play are equally lame and anachronistic.

Bottom Line: Escape Plan plays like a direct-to-DVD feature that somehow finagled a theatrical release. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone have been in plenty of bad movies but they may never have been in one as boring as Escape Plan.

Episode: #464 (November 3, 2013)