“You hit like a vegetarian.”
That one line – along with “Haff a luffly day…AASSSHOAL!” tell you all you need to know about Arnold Schwarzenegger’s return to cheeseball form and formula, in Escape Plan, his first full-on costarring feature with archrival-turned-pal Sylvester Stallone. This ain’t Terminator/Conan/Total Recall Arnold, and I’d say we’d be damn lucky to see anything on that level of genuine quality again. But Commando/Raw Deal/Red Heat Arnold? He’s older and has crappier hair, but he’s back.
As for Stallone – this is the Lock Up version. No, literally – it’s another Stallone-in-prison flick, with Jim Caviezel in the Donald Sutherland sadistic warden role. Except Stallone’s Ray Breslin is actually innocent – he merely makes a living out of going undercover in prisons in order to test their weaknesses and inevitably break out (which I can’t believe isn’t an actual reality show yet). But his latest task is on a whole new level – a black ops, off-the-grid facility for enemy combatants too dangerous to be released or held on U.S. soil. So secret that even his back-up team can’t no where he’s going, it’s a fortress not unlike, well, Fortress, the underground prison Christopher Lambert escaped from in a similar movie. One I now really want to see again.
Almost immediately, things go wrong. The warden, Hobbes (Caviezel) isn’t the one he was told to plan for, and his “safe words” prove useless – instead of being sent in to test a prison, it seems that this time he may have been put away for good because he’s too much of a danger to someone or something. And then they let him make friends with Emil Rottmayer (Ahnuld, finally using a believable character name for himself for the first time ever)…
Yes, the movie dances around the possibility that Rottmayer may not have Breslin’s best interests at heart, and that Breslin may even double-cross Rottmayer in order to get some much-needed information on a mystery terrorist, but come on. Everybody knows that when superheroes fight, it’s the result of a misunderstanding; by the end, they’re teaming up. You’d feel cheated if they didn’t. Just as you’d also feel cheated if you didn’t get to see Schwarzenegger suplex Stallone (you do). And just in case you wonder if anybody could pose a threat to these two, Vinnie Jones is here.
Then there’s the pure gold: a scene in which Schwarzenegger has to pretend to go crazy in order to cause a distraction, and he starts yelling profanities in German. We’re talking future YouTube classic, especially once people start re-subtitling it. Your days are numbered, Downfall Hitler.
Dammit, George Lucas, quit messing with THX-1138
Another part of the fun is playing spot the celebrity – it used to be that in these types of films, you could only do that years later after all had moved on to bigger and better things, but here we have Vincent D’Onofrio, Sam Neill, Amy Ryan, 50 Cent and ubiquitous character actor Faran Tahrir (the first Captain killed by Nero in the 2009 Star Trek), all of them delighted to play support for two leads who have considerably less emoting ability than they do.
The morality of Escape Plan is insanely questionable, as this supposed prison housing the worst of the worst global terrorists seems to contain no actual bad people at all – everyone’s a noble warrior type, and over half the inmates look like nothing more than a disproportionately Caucasian group of unemployed pro-wrestlers. Even the torture, such as it is, consists of Vinnie Jones in a black mannequin mask beating you up, or a hose being stuck in your mouth (waterboarding is too elegant, apparently) – a far cry from the horrors of Abu Ghraib, or even the enhanced interrogations of Zero Dark Thirty.
When the good guys start massacring prison guards, is that moral? We get a token explanation that the guards are mercenary Blackwater types rather than U.S. military, but still – is wiping out our guys in the service of letting every Black Ops prisoner go really a good or sensible idea? Whatever your opinion of our legal process, does anyone really believe all such prisoners are good and all security measures against them are bad? Best you not think too much on this detail…the movie sure doesn’t.
Still, if we were to make a list of every morally questionable thing done by action movie heroes, we’d be here all night and then some. It’s not quite the point here.
Arnold. Stallone. Hitting. Guns. Catchphrases. If you want more, keep holding your breath; for me, this is guy-movie junkfood far more rib-stickingly satisfying than either Expendables or The Last Stand.