The unlikely resurgence of ‘80s action gods Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger continues in this fun nugget of neo-exploitation nonsense.
Stallone takes top billing as Ray Breslin, a specialist in prison escapes who makes an odd living from busting out of the most secure facilities in the world, then telling their owners where they went wrong. The opening demonstration of this convinces us more that he’s the luckiest man in the world, rather than the most ingenious... but no matter. It’s a fun set-piece, and Stallone is on rather more subtle form here than he has been recently.
The meat of the movie, however, comes when Breslin is hired by shady intelligence types to test out a new private prison designed to hold the worst of the worst. But – who’d have guessed it? – all is not as it seems.
With his special tracking device removed, Breslin has no idea where he is. Not only that, his new superprison is of a different order to the jails he’s used to, and the bastard warden (Vinnie Jones...) has a habit of punishing any backchat with a trip to what’s essentially a biscuit tin with a heat lamp inside it.
Grim times for Sly, then, but all’s not lost – his wonderfully named new pal Swan Rottmayer (Schwarzenegger) is oddly happy to help, usually through enthusiastically phoney-ish fights where he accuses Stallone of fighting like a vegetarian. Yes, we’re firmly in post-Expendables territory, targeting the "Arnie! Legend!” crowd.
Happily, Escape Plan is as relatively uncynical as these flicks get. Directed by Swede Mikael Håfström (bouncing back after 2011 Anthony Hopkins horror show The Rite), it’s just as ridiculous as the idea that an Austrian bodybuilder can become one of the world's biggest movie stars, and just as likeable. Jim Caviezel is on unexpected bad-guy duty, and his softly spoken intellectualism plays well against the meaty lead pair.
Stallone and Schwarzenegger have palpable chemistry on screen (drawing from decades of experience in parallel careers), and we’re treated to a few unexpected pleasures – including Arnie speaking German. It’s a proper treat, where the heavy accent we’re all used to suddenly sounds completely natural in its mother tongue. Who’d have thought a popcorn prison flick in 2013 would let us see him anew?
A highly enjoyable slice of in-one-eye, out-the-other nonsense. It may coast on the charisma of its leads at times, and it’s hardly deep, but there’s a Friday night to be had.