There’s a Sam Peckinpah movie I love called Ride the High Country. In it, two aging gunfighters in the old west (played by real-life aging cowboy stars Randolph Scott and Joel McCrea) go on one last job together to try to regain both some of their dignity and their self worth. McCrea’s character says he wants to be able to “enter his house justified.” I feel like Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger could do with watching this movie, so that they might know when it’s time to ride into the sunset. If they had, maybe they wouldn’t have made Escape Plan, a fairly standard and ludicrous action movie made all the more unbelievable because the two lead actors’ combined age is 133.
It’s not that Escape Plan is necessarily un-entertaining; it’s just that it’s so bog standard and devoid of tension while trying at all times to be a smart thriller instead of a stupid action movie. We’ve seen all this before done better, we’ve seen these guys do things like this better, and we don’t want to see two guys who clearly can’t move as well as they used to in roles that would be better suited to guys in their early 50s. Yes, that’s right, guys in their early 50s are the spry spring chickens I think should have been in this movie instead.
Stallone plays Ray Breslin, the guy who literally wrote the book on prisons and their structural integrity. Once a lawyer (I know), Breslin devoted his life to making sure the world’s maximum security prisons are escape-proof. He gets paid lots and lots of money to get put into these prisons and find ways to break out. His partner in this venture is Vincent D’Onofrio, doing a weird and whiny pseudo-Chicago-by-way-of-Brooklyn accent (presumably because he needed something to occupy his mind), and his two friends on the outside are Amy Ryan and 50 Cent. I’m going to ask everyone to take a moment to think about what kind of a world we live in where Amy Ryan and 50 Cent can be in the same county together, much less the same frame of a movie.
They get a government contract for Breslin to go into an “off-the-grid” prison that no one’s supposed to know about and from which none of the prisoners will ever leave. After being black-bagged and drugged (which was not in the job description), Breslin meets the prison’s ruthless warden, Jim Caviezel, who begins the movie playing it buttoned-up and unfeeling but ends the movie in full-on Mid-Atlantic Bond villain mode. The prison, we soon discover, has been designed nearly perfectly, as though the designer had read and followed Breslin’s book to the letter. Seems he’s stuck in there forever now.
Almost. Pretty much as soon as he gets into “The Tomb” (the nickname for the massive, well-protected cattle ranch of a prison), Breslin meets Emil Rottmayer (Schwarzenegger), a political prisoner who’s being held indefinitely until he gives the location of Manheim, a notorious, above-the-law freedom fighter. Breslin and Rottmayer team up to attempt to find a way out, and each take about a million beatings and receive injuries that surely should have laid them out for weeks, especially at their age.
Also in the movie are Vinnie Jones, who makes the best of his role as a generic evil guard, and Sam Neill as the prison’s conflicted doctor, who tries to remain detached but can’t quite seem to overlook all the human atrocities being perpetrated (like routine head-smashings and hours held in a tiny metal box into which nine giant heat lamps are aimed). I would really love if it Neill, Ryan, and D’Onofrio took the paychecks they got for Escape Plan and pooled it to make a movie they can all be proud of, because they’re far too good for this.
Easily the best parts of Escape Plan are the scenes we get between Sly and Arnie, mostly for nostalgic reasons alone. They don’t look the way they used to and, despite some weight-lifting, they clearly can’t be as physical as they once were, but it’s still kind of fun to see them in what’s essentially a buddy movie. I mean, you can’t understand word one of what either of them say, but the 14-year-old in me who loved Rambo and Commando was entertained.
It’s not a good movie by any stretch, though. It thinks it’s being clever throughout when, really, a blind Pomeranian could see the various twists coming three miles away through a pile of bramble bushes. Things happen so fast that it’s not for another two scenes before you realize you’ve seen something that’s supposed to be intriguing. I’m sure this was meant to be a classy, heist-y escape movie, but it ends up just being guys in prison who figure things out without any way of verifying them. When this inevitably comes to Netflix streaming, it’s worth your time on an otherwise free evening, but if you’re looking for something to spend your money on this weekend, you can find a jigsaw puzzle or something. Or go buy Ride the High Country.