Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Escape Plan Review

Escape Plan Review
Believe it or not, the action genre can be very tricky. Some people may think they can throw together some big explosions and witty one-liners and call it popcorn art. Many audience members can enjoy an action movie based upon simple visceral impulse, while others want a little more thematic meat to their action films. Me? I fall somewhere in the middle. I love classics of the genre; such as "Aliens," "Die Hard," "Lethal Weapon," "The Road Warrior" and "Raiders of the Lost Ark. However, I have also loved "The Expendables," "Rambo" and "Con Air." I find a happy medium in the genre, and when I sit down to watch an action movie, one of the main things I look for, whether this the plot is silly or not, is do I care about the characters?

 "Escape Plan" feels like an 1980's movie that has been sitting on the shelf all these years, something that is so blatantly up the alley of both Schwarzenegger and Stallone that its almost funny. Stallone plays Ray Breslin, a man whose job it is to be sent to prison in order to break out of them. He tests the security of prisons around the globe to see how strong security is at those prisons. The film opens with Stallone pulling off a daring escape at some random maximum-security penitentiary, the thing is...this escape is so elaborate that I highly doubt the common criminal has the brains to pull it off. But we aren't suppose to think about such things during a movie like "Escape Plan."

Breslin is approached by a CIA agent to be imprisoned in the top-secret super-maximum security prison, dubbed The Tomb. Breslin is offered a huge payday for his work that he can't help but say yes. When he gets ready to go into The Tomb, things get wary and it seems he's been set up. His only friend in the prison is Rottmayer (Schwarzenegger) and together they plan to break out of The Tomb and find out who set Breslin up. Right away, there are some big logic issues. But I always allow myself to look past them, not everything has to be Oscar-worthy. I liked "2 Guns" over the summer for what it was. "The Last Stand," an action movie that came out this year also starring Schwarzenegger, was great and fun for what it was too. No matter how hammy an action film gets, I can enjoy on its own terms, IF the film crew allows me to care about the characters. Does director Mikael Hafstrom pull that off? Well, yes and no.

I will say one thing about "Escape Plan," this is the most acting you'll likely ever see by Arnold Schwarzenegger. He's given the juiciest role in the entire production and he seems to run with it. Let's be honest, Schwarzenegger is a walking, talking, breathing gimmick. Schwarzenegger usually appears on Best Action Star lists, not Best Actor lists. But when he nails a punchline, its great and he handles his character with care. Stallone does his recent thing...he's sluggish, silent yet somehow endearing at the same time and I guess he's fine in this.

In a film like this, the villains are always important. No matter how zany the villain antics are, if there is clear motivation, it'll work. Both Eric Roberts and Jean Claude Van-Damme were good in the Expendables movies because they had a clear motivation they strive for, its what made them bad. In "Escape Plan" Jim Caviezel plays the warden of The Tomb and Vinnie Jones his sociopaths guard. As much as I like both Caviezel and Jones, they were only bad for the sake of being bad. Caviezel in particular isn't a very good bad guy. I mean he played Jesus Christ for goodness sake, he's no villain. With no real motivation, they do not come off like characters, they come off like types. 

I thought the action and cinematography was striking, but The Tomb setting seemed particularly low-budget looking.  Besides the prison setting, everything else was quite good looking at a technical standpoint. I thought the idea of a guy who gets himself put in prison to check how secure they are is a cool idea and it could have made for a fun movie. But the screenwriters wrote all the fun out the script and gave us characters we never really come to know. As much as no motivation plagues the villains it also plagues Stallone's character. We learn he does what he does because of an incident with his deceased wife and child. Yet, we never learn what that incident was. Too bad, that could have been a dramatic linchpin for the film to play upon. 

"Escape Plan" has some good ideas and some good stuff going on in it. Sadly, the whole of the thing doesn't work. Sometimes, I don't always require the big story beats in order for a film to work for me or not. But there needs to be some genuine effort involved if I am going to care. "Escape Plan" gets it half-right, but I'm just not sure half-right is enough.


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