Grunt Freedom, by David Bax
Here are the things that are right about Mikael Håfström’s Escape Plan. Any prison break movie needs a believable, engaging and innovative plan for breaking out and this one delivers on that promise. And any action movies needs action sequences that are creative, well-presented and that contain some basic stakes. Escape Plan has all that. The problem is that everything else, including characterizations, motivations, humor, a sense of place and a point of view – all the things that are a part of a complete and balanced feature – is empty and mind-numbing.
Sylvester Stallone stars as Ray Breslin, a security consultant whose job is to be interred in a prison where neither the inmates nor the guards have any idea of his true identity and to then find a way to break out, thereby displaying the prison’s faults. For this, the federal government pays his company $2.5 million per prison. There is no way this is a real job. First off, what company would insure such an employee? Second, why would the government pay so much for this? Do the Republicans in the House of Representatives know about this expenditure?
Breslin and his business partner and “numbers guy,” played by Vincent D’Onofrio with all the subtlety you’ve come to expect from Vincent D’Onofrio, accept a special job. Instead of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, their new client is the CIA and they’re willing to pay double to have Breslin try to break out of an off-the-book facility used to detain enemy combatants and the like with no due process and no chance of parole. But when Ray arrives, he has no idea where he is, the warden is not the warden he was expecting and no one at all knows his real identity or how to extract him. There he meets Emil Rottmayer (Arnold Schwarzenegger), a similarly sinewy old inmate. Together, they begin to hatch the titular scheme.
Their nemesis is Warden Hobbes, played (or, rather, mannerized into existence) by Jim Caviezel. He’s sleek, smarmy and vaguely effeminate in the unfortunate way of far too many bad guys in dumb action movies. But Caviezel can’t even go through those familiar motions effectively because he seems too self-conscious. At every turn, he appears to be hesitating, perhaps out of embarrassment.
Hobbes is only part of the problem. Every character other than Breslin and Rottmayer, really, is the result of too little imagination. Vinnie Jones plays the head guard and, if he just had grunts and snarls instead of lines, there would be no difference. D’Onofrio is so transparently unlikable and untrustworthy that his character is never a real threat. And Breslin’s other employees, despite being played amiably by Amy Ryan and Curtis ’50 Cent’ Jackson, are literally among the most useless characters ever inserted into a film.
But back to the good stuff about Escape Plan. The strategy for breaking out has enough details to be believable and enough twists and turns to maintain the film’s momentum. And as for the action, well, Schwarzenegger blowing dudes away in slow motion with a giant fucking machine gun is an end in itself.