Friday, September 5, 2014

Summer of Films: Escape Plan (2013)

Stallone and Schwarzenegger are back together again! It’s too bad their film stinks. Indifferent writing. Indifferent acting. Uninteresting settings. Weak action. Yawn. This was disappointing.

Plot

Ray Breslin (Stallone) has a talent for escaping from prisons. He’s so talented that the Department of Justice hires him to break out of supermax prisons so he can show them their weaknesses and they can correct them. Indeed, the film opens with him doing just that, though his escape stretches credulity.

Soon enough, Breslin finds himself visited by the CIA. Because they can’t “rendition” the worst of the worst anymore, they need a new system to hold the people who should never be allowed to see the light of day. To that end, they’ve contracted with a private sector company to build a prison where they can make these people disappear. Naturally, they want Breslin to attempt to break out of the prison to test their new system.
Stallone agrees even though they won't agree to any of his normal safety protocols. Of course, the minute he finds himself in the prison he learns that he has been betrayed and that someone wants him "disappeared." He also discovers that the warden is cruel and the guards are sadists who maintain control by beating prisoners. What's more, they built this prison using all of his ideas from his book on how to build an inescapable prison. Now he must break out or spend the rest of his life stuck in this prison. Helping him in this regard is another prisoner: renown assistant cyber-terrorist Rottmayer (Arnold Schwarzenegger). Can Stallone escape and regain his freedom? Take a guess.

Why This Film Stunk

In 1989, Stallone did a film similar to this. It was called Lock Up. In that film, he was a minor convict and model prisoner whose time was up, but the warden wanted to punish him after he went to the press about the warden’s treatment of prisoners. This caused the warden to try to set up Stallone to spend the rest of his life in prison, which leads to a sort of prison escape film/revenge film. Lock Up had solid motivations, strong emotions and high stakes. It may not have been the best film ever, but it got your attention.
The problem with Escape Plan is that it never really captures your interest. For one thing, this film is entirely predictable. You know Stallone is being set up the moment he agrees to take the assignment. You know Stallone will eventually escape. It’s just not possible that these things won’t happen. Moreover, throughout, you know when Stallone will be punished. You know when he will learn whatever he needs to learn to escape. You know who his friends will be, who will betray him, who he will kill and how it will all end. There are two twists, but they are so incidental to the plot that they have no impact. It’s hard to feel any tension when you know how each scene will end all throughout the movie.

The characters aren’t very interesting either. Arnold plays Arnold the action hero. He technically has a character, but it’s purely incidental to the movie and it’s nothing you care about, and you know he's never in any danger. Ditto on Stallone. James Caviezel plays the warden. Normally, I’m a fan of his, but here he plays the character so indifferently that he almost seems like a robot at times. There are other characters, but you won’t remember any of them.
The writing is really poor too. There isn’t a clever or memorable line. There isn’t a moment of insight. For a man who supposedly is a master of escaping from prisons, there’s no moment where he tells you something you don’t already know about prison, about the human state of mind as a guard or a prisoner, or even about how he perceives the world. Basically, every line of dialog is transactional: “I need to get into that room.”

The action isn’t very interesting either. For the most part, the action is entirely asymmetrical. Thus, the guards easily beat up the good guys when they want to. When the good guys escape, they easily crush the guards. Then in the final shootout, the good guys mow down dozens of guards without any real risk to themselves. There is never a fight where you don't know the outcome the moment it begins, and at no point is there any fight which feels like a payoff.
So what you have here are characters you don’t care about, a story that means nothing to you, a story you can predict moment by moment, fights with no tension, and an utter lack of cleverness and nothing memorable to take from the film. The end result is a film that is entirely devoid of tension and interest.

Frankly, Stallone can and should do a lot better. Stallone is a capable actor with a good deal of charisma who should be picking much more interesting projects at this point in his career.

Finally, as an aside, this film also has whiffs of politics that aren’t appreciated. It seems to be assumed that the CIA is evil. The CIA tortures prisoners. The prison guards are sadists. The worst of the worst are all Caucasians, with the one Islamist turning out to be a noble heroic character. The “good guy” (Arnold) has invented a plan to destroy the world’s banks. None of this was shoved in your face, but in a film with little else to hold your interest, these little leftist tropes became rather annoying.

Thoughts?

29 comments:

Mike said...

I agree 100% with the first paragraph of this review. I watched it not but six months or so ago and if not for reading the article, couldn't have told anyone what the plot was. I checked at IMDb and I gave it a "4"....and I must have been in a generous mood.

ScottDS said...

Bummer... I was looking forward to this one and if it hits Netflix, I'll probably check it out anyway.

It would seem that, with the exception of the Expendables films (maybe not the last one) and the return of Rambo and Rocky, these guys have completely lost their mojo. None of the films they've made for the last several years have made any money (except for the ones mentioned above) and it's worth asking: do people care anymore? Sure, they're movie legends at this point, but the golden years ended a loooong time ago.

Disappointing, especially for an 80s/90s kid.

AndrewPrice said...

Mike, I think a 4 is about appropriate. This isn't a film you will hate so much as it's a film that just doesn't become interesting. I found myself waiting for the ending after a while.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, It is disappointing. These guys still have the charisma and the talent, they just don't seem to be able to pick good projects. Or, in this case, they never seemed to buy into the film. Arnold in particular felt like he was just visiting the set to read some lines and then collect a check. They are capable of much better than this.

ScottDS said...

(Ironically, I'm wearing a Predator T-shirt today.)

I agree, and perhaps they need new representation. (I've said the same thing about Eddie Murphy - I think he's got at least one great comedy classic in him but he needs new "people.")

Bruce Willis, who can do great work, sadly seems to be phoning it in lately, too.

Anonymous said...

I disagree. I have two points, First, Stallone has made quite a few quick action films in his career whose only purpose was to entertain you for a quick hour and a half. I thought this one fits solidly in with Cobra, Judge Dredd, Demolition Man, etc. He doesn't aim for Rocky Balboa every time he leaves the gate.
Second,we've had this discussion before. There are films that make lasting impressions on you. Blade Runner. Rocky Balboa. The Deer Hunter. The Excorcist. Then there are films whose purpose is just to entertain you for a couple hours and pass the time. This was clearly in the latter camp.
Was it great? No. But I watched it the other night and I enjoyed it for what it was, a quick actioner that was, for me at least, fun to watch. And as time goes by too quickly, I enjoyed seeing two icons together for what could well be the last time.
GypsyTyger

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, I agree. I think they need better people who understand their current skill set better and aren't thinking about trying to wedge them into "1980's like" films.

Murphy is another great example of a guy who still has the talent, but just can't pick good projects to save his life. He needs better representation too.

Agreed about Willis. He's totally phoning it in these days and his performances have not been good of late.

AndrewPrice said...

GypsyTyger, You are, of course, free to disagree. :)

That said, I have nothing against films that are just made to entertain. To the contrary, I enjoy those a lot and they are often the films I turn to repeatedly when I'm in the mood to watch a movie. But to me, this didn't hit that level. To me, this felt like a half-hearted effort that no one really cared about. It felt like a film they were under contract to make, so they made it and they got off set as quickly as possible to put it behind them. This one misses the earnestness of films like Judge Dredd or Commando or Predator 2.

djskit said...

Contrast this file with the Expendables films. I've seen 2 and they are generally entertaining where everyone gets to ham it up with a smirk. So, the band can get back together, when they want to.

AndrewPrice said...

djskit, The Expendable films are fun and are definitely meant to be tongue in cheek. I'm not sure if they meant this to be the same and it just didn't come across that way or if they meant this to be more serious. I get the sense they wanted this to be serious and just didn't manage to pull it off.

Tennessee Jed said...

After Expendables, I don't bother with this stuff anymore. It is true actresses have had a shorter shelf life in Hollywood, but Sly and Arnold are proff there is one for action heroes who really don't have any acting chops. That movie (Expendables) was so bad I couldn't believe it. Maybe it is the dearth of actors to fill their shoes (how often can they play the Chris Pines card anyhow?) Or, maybe the old boomers are still buying more tickets. The only guys that have pulled this off very well are Hackman and Liam Neeson. Hmnnn ..... funny, those guys actually can act a bit.

I always felt like Arnold and Sly were successful because they didn't try and move outside their strong silent slot. And Arnold did have a little knack for comedy. No, this doesn't surprise me. And if Caveizel stunk as well, it just shows the whole project was a crass money grab by the over-the-hill gang. Even good actors will mail it in when it is a true stinker.

Anonymous said...

I didn't mind the movie, but didn't particularly like it enough to go out of my way to watch it again, even if it turned up on TV when I've nothing to do and there is nothing else on.

It was predictable and didn't really surprise me.

I partially agree with GypsyTyger in that this wasn't meant to be high entertainment the same as Cobra and Judge Dredd, it is meant to pass the time but it could have been better with only a little effort. I don't remember much at all about Cobra and I won't remember much about this movie after awhile and I will only remember Judge Dredd because it was so bad and that says a lot about it's quality.

And I do disagree that Demolition Man belongs anywhere any of those movies, it is a classic action movie with witty social commentary, love that movie, Escape Plan was merely ok.

Scott.

Jason said...

A few thoughts on this flick:

If this had come out in the 80s, it would have been one of the highest grossing films of that year. Think about it: Stallone AND Schwarzenegger co-starring in the same movie. That would have blown people’s minds back then. But a project like this just came way overdue and having these two guys team up doesn’t work the box office magic any more. Heck, Expendables 3 just tanked big time in the U.S. with a whole bunch of 80s-90s action stars, although I think that movie was the victim of bad timing – Guardians of the Galaxy was still doing gangbusters.

Also, that street Stallone drives down on the way to the phone booth is the same road I drive down on the way to work. Needless to say, there is no phone booth there in real life. :)

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, I think that actors need to evolve if they want to stay relevant. Styles change. Expectations change. Their imitators begin to one up them if they don't. And frankly, they start to see really old and out of place if they don't. This film showed a total lack of growth.

On The Expendables, at least there the point is a nostalgia trip. That wasn't the case here.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, I agree about Demolition Man. That was a well-made, clever film with some great action. It's easily one of my favorite Stallone films and it's even held up well.

AndrewPrice said...

Jason, The novelty factor of them together has certainly worn off by this point, and since the film offered little else, there wasn't much to leave an impression.

shawn said...

Once again, you nailed it. Thought this was a pretty bland flick.

I have to admit, I didn't care for either of the first two of The Expendables. Although I will say that Van Damme was an excellent villain and Chuck Norris' cameo was pretty funny in the second one. I haven't seen the third, and quite frankly, it looks overstuffed with actors who won't get much screen time.

Demolition Man on the other hand was an excellent movie.

AndrewPrice said...

Shawn, Thanks. "Pretty blank flick" is how I saw it.

I liked the second Expendables much better than the first because I thought it had the right spirit. It didn't take itself as seriously as the first (as evidenced by the awesome Chuck Norris cameo) and I appreciated that. But yeah, neither is a great film by any means.

Agreed on Demolition Man. That was an awesome movie all around -- funny, clever, nice action, solid acting, etc.

Kit said...

So, dull and boring movie?

Tennessee Jed said...

it is possible, of course, that I'm being a tad judgmental about Expendables, but it was one of the first Blu-Rays I bought to demo in my theater. I think it had the full compliment of DTS 7.1 Master lossless audio, etc., and I thought, "yeah this will be great!" Then, after starting to view it, the novelty wore off after a couple of scenes. The plot just seemed so tiring, derivative, I felt like I've seen this before. Sly captured and stoically enduring torture? Oh wait, that was in Rambo. It seemed to me like what you describe here. Over the hill action stars with a lackluster plot and screenplay mailing it in for a pay day. I blew $20 on the blu-ray. It reminds me that modern day technical special effects are not enough anymore. I'd rather find the low budget under the radar indie film with fresh faces and killer acting.

AndrewPrice said...

Kit, Pretty much.

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, I can't disagree with you about The Expendables. I heard so much positive about it that I was quite excited to see it, and it left me cold. It felt tired and uninteresting. They relied on novelty rather than story to hold your interest, and they just made a lot of bad choices. The second one surprised me as much better than the first, but mainly because it had a more fun spirit too it, with all of it being very tongue in cheek. I can't say it was great or that you should give it a chance, but I enjoyed it enough to watch it, whereas I struggled to get through The Expendables.

Tennessee Jed said...

I never did see the sequel. Probably won't go out of my way, but given what you are saying, I won't automatically run away from it at least

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Good review, Andrew.
I concur, this one was really bland. However, I did recently watch Grudge Match
and I was pleasantly surprised.

Grudge Match isn't a great film but it was well worth watching, and wasn't what I was expecting, but in a good way.
Stallone and DeNiro did much better than their recent fare, which gives me hope they aren't quite finished yet and can still act.

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, In all honesty, I doubt you'll like the sequel much better. I recommend skipping it -- except for the Chuck Norris cameo if you can see that.

AndrewPrice said...

Thanks Ben! This was bland.

I've seen the trailer for Grudge Match and I wasn't sure if it was going to be good or if the gag was that these two actors have gotten old. It's encouraging to hear that you liked it! I'll have to check it out. :)

ScottDS said...

In case you're still reading...

I just finished the film. It wasn't horrible and I wouldn't go so far as to call it a cash grab. I actually liked Arnold's acting during his "go crazy" scene (I don't know if that's a good thing or not!).

And Caviezel almost had Walken-esque line readings during one or two scenes. "You will... NEVER get out. I... own YOU." :-)

But yeah, it was all much ado about nothing. Arnold's backstory didn't amount to anything, though I didn't get political vibes from it: it's clear he had simply invented something that others feared... I don't believe we get any kind of motivation, political or otherwise on Arnold's part.

And yeah, the guards are all bad shots except when they have to be good shots. And if only the guards frisked the prisoners, none of their plans would've worked!!

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, I'm always reading (ominous music)...

I saw this movie much more cynically than you did. This struck me as a cash grab that no one on the production team cared about. There wasn't a moment I enjoyed.

ScottDS said...

In this topsy-turvy world of ours, I try to maintain a minimum of cynicism. :-)

Believe me, if I disliked this movie (like I did 2012) or I thought it was a cashgrab, I'd be shouting it from the f---ing rooftops!

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