1.5 stars (out of four)
Hoping the latest prison drama provides some cinematic escapism? Don’t plan on it.
Escape Plan is the newest vehicle for aging action stars Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger and, in this case, it’s a lemon or possibly an Edsel.
It’s never a positive sign when a film’s distributor delays the screening of a film until well past the deadline for reviews that would appear on the day it opens, as has happened here.
It’s a cynical strategy, one intended to bypass the critics and go straight to the people, and it’ll probably work.
Escape Plan is one of those films that can safely be regarded as critic-proof.
If you’ve seen the trailer, you know all you need to about the plot. Stallone plays Ray Breslin, an expert of breaking out of federal maximum security prisons, who is hoodwinked into testing a new privately run facility for people who “should not be allowed out in the real world.”
In the allegedly escape-proof prison, known as The Tomb, he meets Rottmayer (that’s Ah-nold with a beard) and together they plot their eventual liberation.
In one particularly eye-rolling scene, Breslin constructs a sextant from various odds and ends to determine their global position.
Perhaps to deflect criticism that the story is aimed at the Neanderthal crowd, the story is cluttered with subplots, including the search for a terrorist named Mannheim, which means putting the squeeze on Rottmayer, and an alliance with a Muslim guy, which goes to show you they’re not all bad.
The story also flips back and forth between the prison and the feeble efforts by Breslin’s colleagues to find him after his tracking device is forcibly removed.
It helps pad the film to almost two hours but the problem is it feels like padding, which leaves Hush (Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson) and Abigail (Amy Ryan) with little to do but look troubled.
The third member of the team is Lester Clark (Vincent D’Onofrio) and it only takes his obsessive use of hand sanitizer for one to suss out that he’s the one who’s betrayed Breslin.
There are no surprises with Stallone and Schwarzenegger, both of whom trade plenty of buddy-buddy trash talk with typically poor elocution, punctuated by f-bombs (the only word that either seems to pronounce with clarity and conviction).
Jim Caviezel plays Warden Hobbes with a sociopathic silkiness that feels disturbingly authentic and poor Sam Neill plays the prison doctor with a hushed, almost aching sheepishness.
Equally unsurprising is that the prison’s foolproof security system has more holes than the plot and that Breslin and Rottmayer will successfully make good their getaway thanks to one implausible circumstance after another, including prison guards who are like the gang that couldn’t shoot straight. (This is not a spoiler. Can you imagine them not escaping?)
For undiscriminating lovers of action films, Escape Plan is going to be a breakout hit.
For the rest of us, your time in the theatre is going to feel like an awfully long stretch.
Bruce DeMara is a syndicated Toronto Star movie critic.