Even though the film only grossed $25 million in the US it grossed another $100 million dollars overseas which combined with DVD sales and rentals made it a financially successful film. I guess the reason for that is that while Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger are on the tired side as action heroes in the United States, they are still big stars in other countries. Or it could be that other countries spend more on movies than Americans.
Whatever the reason of the international success of Escape Plan, I was looking forward to watching this movie. Not only did it star two of my favorite actors in the lead roles it had as one of my all-time favorites in the supporting cast: Vincent D’onofrio, best known as the iconic Detective Robert Goren of the late and lamented Law & Order: Criminal Intent. The movie starts out with Stallone locked away in what appears to be a maximum security prison idling away the hours in his solitary confinement cell wadding up pieces of toilet paper and tearing apart his chocolate milk containers but just a few minutes later he escapes from his cell using the same toilet paper wads and chocolate milk container. He then proceeds to break out of the entire prison when a nearby car explosion creates chaos in the yard.
It turns out that Stallone is none other than Ray Breslin, the man who wrote the book on prison security and who currently makes a living by inserting himself into maximum security prisons so he can highlight their weaknesses by breaking out of them. D’Onofrio plays his partner Lester Clark who seemed underutilized in this film and his only character quirk is that he slathers himself in hand sanitizer at every opportunity. No sooner than Breslin has escaped from the prison he and Clark are offered five million dollars by the CIA to have Breslin attempt to escape from a prison that is so secret no one knows where it is or who is in it. Breslin agrees after taking a number of precautions (an implanted tracker device and a safeword) to ensure that he will be able to get out of the unknown prison in case he fails. As arranged, Breslin is kidnapped and drugged but finds himself in the prison with his tracking device removed and a warden that doesn’t recognize his safeword. In fact the warden knows who Breslin is and even has a copy of his prison security textbook on his desk because the entire prison is modeled after Breslin’s guidance to make it escape proof.
The prison is a multistory array of Plexiglas cells suspended in midair with masked armed guards watching over every prisoner. Breslin makes the acquaintance of Emil Rottmayer (played by Schwarzenegger), who is being held because he knows the whereabouts of the secretive European master criminal Mannheim and is periodically grilled for the information he possesses. Breslin eventually realizes that this prison isn’t meant to house criminals – these inmates all have enemies that are paying to keep them locked away and that means that someone is paying for Breslin’s incarceration as well.
Breslin and Rottmayer form an alliance with Javed (the head of the Muslim inmate) and the trio works together and manage to find out where the prison is, get a message to Mannheim, and manufacture a prison riot in order to make their escape. I don’t want to give away too much of the ending but you can rest assured that Arnold shoots a big gun at some point, Breslin beats up some prison guards, and both get to exact some revenge on the prison guards and the person who paid to keep Breslin in prison forever.
The reason I wanted to see this movie was to catch some Stallone and Arnold movie action but except for the big escape at the end there was very little action to be had in this flick. Thanks to the miracle of HGH Stallone can get away with looking like an action figure at 67 and realistically holds his own when he battles the prison guards but at 66 Arnold must be off the juice – he wore long sleeve shirts the entire movie and didn’t get into any physical confrontations except for the occasional sucker punch.
The movie was entertaining enough if you like watching Stallone and Arnold doing their Stallone and Arnold thing but plot wise there were lots of problems with the premise. Let’s say you have unlimited funds and you have a big enemy of yours at your mercy – why are you going to pay to have them put into a super-secret prison when you can easily have them killed (after all you did capture them so you could put them in this prison)? Prison warden Hobbs is told by Breslin's patron to break him and never let him out of the prison so he has his guards beat him up at every opportunity but wouldn't it be simpler, safer, and easier to have Breslin assassinated or have an ‘accident’? Rottmayer needs to be alive because he supposedly has information about the mysterious Mannheim but what about the hundreds of other prisoners? I never understood why they were being kept alive and even if they all had information that still doesn’t explain the need to keep Breslin around.
The other thing I didn’t get about the super prison is if you have a prison with a Plexiglas cell for each prisoner to ensure isolation and visibility what are all these prisoners doing outside their cells en masse for meal and together time? The prisoners have all congregated into gangs, fights between rival factions are commonplace, and there are plenty of chances to Breslin, Rottmayer, and Javed to get together and plot a prison riot and even smuggle a homemade 16th century version of a GPS outside the prison to find out their location. Don’t forget, this is a secret prison and the people who run it are being paid handsomely to keep their inmates from escaping. And of course there are surveillance cameras and microphones everywhere except the doctor’s quarters where all the drugs, scalpels, and needles are held. At times I thought I was watching a remake of ‘MacGyver’ meets ‘Hogan's Heroes’.
If you are lukewarm towards Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger this is not the movie for you. There is only a little action and watching Stallone and Arnold outwit their prison masters is a pretty big stretch. While I did like watching Stallone channel his inner ‘MacGyver’, Arnold was just a big guy in a prison and did very little that I would find Arnold-like. Even Arnold's signature humor was AWOL with his best line being 'You hit like a vegetarian' after taking a punch from Stallone. The major supporting actor is Jim Caviezel as Warden Hobbs who plays his part with the requisite meanness but all the holes in prison security unintentionally make him out to be a village idiot and very hard to take seriously in his battle of wits with Stallone. I enjoy watching Stallone in almost any film so I found the movie to be a decent couple of hours of ‘escapism’ for my $1.50 rental fee but I’m counting it as a blessing that I didn’t get the chance to pay $15 plus popcorn at the movie theatre or I may have had a different opinion entirely.
Speaking of escapes, I played this one minute chess game on the Internet Chess Club just before leaving for work on Monday. Once I got the advantage, there was no escape for Humberto and I’m thinking I would have made a decent prison warden.