Silver Screen: Escape Plan ***
The movie event of 1988 is here.
Admittedly, there was a slight twenty-five-year delay, not unlike when you try to sign up for health insurance on the Obamacare website. (Individual Mandate would be a pretty good name for an action movie, although it sounds more like a Van Damme thing.)
No, the movie event of 1988 is Escape Plan, the long-awaited teamup of American(ish) action icons Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone. It’s Coke and Pepsi in one bottle, Mac and PC in one computer, a shoe that’s both Nike and Reebok. More literally, it’s a semi-unintelligible Austrian bodybuilder teaming up with an improbably even less-intelligible American muscleman in an action movie brought to you by the writers of Mirror, Mirror and Road House II: Last Call.
The buzz on Escape Plan might have been higher had Stallone not already drained the nation’s nostalgia reserves with the shoot ‘em up ensembles Expendables and Expendables II. Unlike the Expendables series, with all the stunt casting and endless in-jokes, Escape Plan is a real movie, albeit a very silly one, and although it’s not very good it is still a pretty good time.
Stallone stars as Ray Breslin, the leader of a private company that tests the security of prisons by putting a man on the inside and attempting a breakout. Escape artist Breslin is both the founder and inside man, and his latest job is his most difficult and mysterious one yet. Breslin is kidnapped and ferried to an undisclosed location where he must attempt to find a back-door way out of a facility designed using his own book.
The prison, run by the sadistic Warden Hobbes (a delightfully evil Jim Caviezel), is partly structured around Foucault’s concept of the panopticon, although as much as I would like to hear either lead say the words “Foucault’s panopticon,” no one ever mentions this aloud. It’s a privately funded holding facility for high-level criminals detained indefinitely and without trial.
Once inside, Ray realizes he’s been set up-- his identity has been erased, his support team is cut off, and Hobbes won’t acknowledge that he’s an innocent man. Ray’s only ally is Emil Rottmayer (Schwarzenegger), an ideologue who refuses to give up the location of a terrorist planning to bring down the world banking system. The warden is determined to break Rottmayer and get the information, but Ray plans to break the both of them out by any means necessary.
Escape Plan is riddled with logical inconsistencies and gaping plot holes. The basic premise is silly enough, and it only gets more ridiculous as it goes along. Another way to say this is, it gets just ridiculous enough. A wildly improbable third-act plot twist puts the movie over the top in all the right ways and sets the stage for an awesomely cartoonish climax. It also makes for a surprisingly subtle pun on Hobbes’s Leviathan, although don’t look for any philosophical double entendres in the dialogue, which is pretty much limited to Arnold shooting people and then saying, “Have a lovely day, asshole.”
Sly and Arnold seem to have a bit of fun here, and, over-the-hill though they may be, they still know how to entertain-- Stallone with his dogged self-seriousness and Schwarzenegger doing his smirking human superhero routine. If at any point in the movie you find yourself bored, just remember that one of these guys is an Oscar winner and the other was the governor of California.
Caviezel aside, the supporting cast is mostly negligible. An unnecessarily protracted subplot involving Ray’s support crew adds running time to an already slightly overlong movie, and also subjects us to the indignity of the abysmal Fifty Cent playing a computer-tech wizard. Perhaps Fitty was included just to show that the two headliners could actually be far more wooden and unintelligible.
So at last we can close the books on 1988 and move on with our lives. My prediction for 1989 and beyond: Geraldine Ferarro makes George H.W. Bush a one-term president, and we never hear from the Bush family again. And all is right with the world.
Follow Bryan Miller on Twitter@bmillercomedy.