Tense, campy thriller

Tense, campy thriller

Escape PlanEnglish (A) ***Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jim Caviezel, Vincent D’OnofrioDirector: Michael Hofstrom

There is nothing more detrimental to a movie than a confused philosophy.

Directed by Swedish filmmaker Michael Hofstrom, whose previous directorial triumphs include such obvious winners as Drowning Ghost (2004) and The Rite (2011) — and don’t worry, if you never heard of these films (I doubt if anyone has), his latest creation, the action escapade, Escape Plan, attempts to reach the apex of the genre by employing two of its best-known stars.

If this film had been made in 1950s Hollywood, it would have been a western, starring two or three popular “cowboy heroes.” Being made today, it stars Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger as the desperate inmates of a high-technology, high-security international prison. Whoever thought that it would be a good idea to unite these behemoths in a single movie obviously had no trouble convincing studio heads. 

Among the vast legions of adolescent theatre-goers, and those in the highly lucrative Asian market, Schwarzenegger and Stallone still command salivating respect as serious actors (yes, the term is used loosely). But although these cast choices border the farcical, they give the film a strange and unlikely charm, an unexpected power.

A large part of Escape Plan revolves around Ray Breslin (Stallone), a professional security expert who makes a lucrative living of being planted as a convict in a maximum-security prison and using his talents to exploit the vulnerabilities of the facility by breaking out.

His luck, however, turns sour when he is given a contract to test the security of a top-secret prison named, “The Tomb,” which is so nefarious and suffocating that it makes Alcatraz look a summer camp. When Breslin decides to end the assignment by revealing his true identity to the sadistic prison warden, Hobbes (Jim Caviezel), he discovers that he has been betrayed and due to remain in “The Tomb” until his death. Soon befriended by a fellow inmate, Rottmayer (Arnold Schwarzenegger), Breslin convinces Rottmayer that the top-secret facility can be breached and in this way, the destinies of both men become intertwined. 

While all this sounds like compelling stuff, Escape Plan is a film which is propelled by the sheer star power of its actors, but often chooses to squander its potential by seeking refuge in kitsch and sentimentality (one scene echoes of Arnold’s climactic turkey shoot in his theatre of the absurd, Commando (1985)). It is as though Hofstrom was uncertain of which kind of a movie he wanted to make. The film is not quite in the league of movies which are so bad that they are actually good, and it is salvaged by the sheer on-screen charisma of Schwarzenegger. His Rottmayer is a man of real vulnerability. 

Gone is the muscle-heavy superman which Schwarzenegger had employed with effect in the great popcorn-fed epics of the ’80s. Yet, Escape Plan suffers from so much lost promise. The calibre of actors within this film is so high that had Hofstrom chosen to use them properly, Escape Plan could have been heralded as an instant classic. Chief among them — Sam Neill, who plays the pro-humanist prison doctor — is criminally underused.Escape Plan is a far throw from that triumph of the prison drama, Papillon (1973). Is it adeptly made? Yes. Will it set the audience howling with delight at the cornball dialogue? Yes, and that is exactly part of the problem. 

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