Film review: Escape Plan

posted at 2:01 pm on October 20, 2013 by Ed Morrissey

Ray Breslin has two ambitions — to get into prison, and then to find a way out.  His reputation as the foremost expert on probing the nation’s toughest maximum-security facilities for flaws leads him to a big job for the CIA, which wants Breslin to test their latest black-site operation.  However, the job goes bad almost immediately, and Breslin finds that he’ll need help in breaking out of this jam — help from a very unlikely quarter.  Can Breslin find a way out, and will he discover why he got put away in the first place?

Escape Plan pairs two of the most successful action-movie headliners of all time, Sylvester Stallone (Breslin) and Arnold Schwarzenegger (Rottmayer). Schwarzenegger appeared briefly in The Expendables with Stallone, but this is the first real collaboration of their careers. This looks like stunt casting, made all the more obvious by the trailer for the next Stallone film that accompanied the film, Grudge Match, which will feature Stallone and Robert DeNiro as two boxers thirty years past their prime.

With that in mind, it would be easy to dismiss Escape Plan as just a novelty for the two stars to regurgitate a few one-liners and aim to please only their die-hard fans, if readers will pardon the pun.  Instead, Escape Plan is an entertaining action/mystery popcorn flick, with good performances and a storyline that keeps audiences interested to the end.  The action takes a back seat to the story and the mystery surrounding Breslin’s capture, although some of the mystery doesn’t remain mysterious for long enough.

The film is not without its flaws, chief among them that everyone but Breslin (including the audience) smells a rat at the beginning of this deal, which undercuts the character’s supposed genius and instincts.  The detention facility recycles a waterboarding trope that’s been passé since 2008.  After a gritty and lengthy prison sequence in which revelations come at a realistic pace, the last 10 minutes of the film suddenly shifts to a hipster caper tone and pace to wrap up a number of somewhat-incredible loose ends.

On the plus side, Escape Plan has a great cast, including a rare Jim Caviezel appearance as a villain, the malevolent Warden Hobbes.  Rapper Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson and Amy Ryan give credible performances as Breslin’s support team who are a little brighter than their boss. Vincent D’Onofrio plays Breslin’s partner, but it’s not one of his best performances, and his presence in the role signals that more is going on there a little earlier in the film than the director probably wanted.

The one standout performance — and really the only emotional hook for the audience — is Sam Neill as the doctor at the detention facility, who drinks to distance himself from the ethical questions of what happens around him.  Neill doesn’t get a lot of screen time but uses it well, forcing the audience to connect to the will-a-good-man-do-nothing question.  And although the film doesn’t explicitly address it, Breslin faces the same question, given his motivation for being in the business he’s chosen.  Don’t expect any real debate about what is necessary to fight terrorism, unlike Swordfish, which raised and then partially dodged the question.  Escape Plan manages a Houdini-esque cop-out on that point in the nature of the detention facility.

Still, as a popcorn movie this is above average, and it’s far better than a stunt-casted festival of tough-guy one-liners.  It’s not going to win any awards — except maybe the AARP Movie of the Year — but it’s a fun way to pass a couple of hours.  On the Hot Air scale, Escape Plan gets a three, with a bump to four for Stallone and Schwarzenegger fans or for audiences who just want some escapist fare, if you’ll pardon me one last pun:

  • 5 – Full price ticket
  • 4 – Matinee only
  • 3 – Wait for Blu-Ray/DVD/PPV rental or purchase
  • 2 – Watch it when it hits Netflix/cable
  • 1 – Avoid at all costs

Escape Plan earns its R rating.  It’s not appropriate for teens or children.


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Was Bruce Willis not available to add to the burned out old action movie star power?

Ed watched this movie in a theater so we don’t have to. I’ll wait for it to come to cable.

simkeith on October 20, 2013 at 2:09 PM

Let me predict the sequel in which he runs for president.

Drained Brain on October 20, 2013 at 2:25 PM

Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger

Two names I use to filter out movies old or new.

CWchangedhisNicagain on October 20, 2013 at 2:26 PM

Stallone’s return to making enjoyable action films has been quite fun – I never go see them in the theater but I’ll usually rent them when they hit Amazon Prime. The revisit to Rambo was the best of his latest work, but The Expendables were fun as well – like those, I’ll wait for this to hit Prime, but I look forward to seeing it. He’s had some obvious misses, but his action movies are rarely duds, even when they have ridiculous plots.

Personally, nothing he does will ever top First Blood (nope, not even the original Rocky, heresy I know) but nothing he does has to top it – dude’s made more good action/guy movies than anyone since Steve McQueen – glad you reviewed this Ed.

King B on October 20, 2013 at 2:35 PM

Stallone and Schwarzenegger.

Why bother?

Pork-Chop on October 20, 2013 at 2:53 PM

Be sure to go see Gravity in 3d but make sure it’s a good theater.

fatlibertarianinokc on October 20, 2013 at 2:57 PM

aim to please only their die-hard fans, if readers will pardon the pun.

Easy enough to excuse, you miss-punned – “Die Hard” would apply to the Bruce Willis series of films.

whatcat on October 20, 2013 at 2:59 PM

I wouldn’t even think of seeing a movie with Ahnold in it.

ThePrimordialOrderedPair on October 20, 2013 at 3:02 PM

Be sure to go see Gravity in 3d but make sure it’s a good theater.

fatlibertarianinokc on October 20, 2013 at 2:57 PM

No thanks.

Murphy9 on October 20, 2013 at 3:20 PM

“I wouldn’t even think of seeing a movie with Ahnold in it.”

Why not? He *is* one of the few remaining Republicans with a national name. I’d love to see him going toe-to-toe with Chris Christie.

NahnCee on October 20, 2013 at 3:24 PM

Why not? He *is* one of the few remaining Republicans with a national name.

He’s a disgrace and an idiot. Besides, his movies generally suck. The ones that are good are good in spite of Ahnold.

Other than that, Ahnold is still Eurotrash. I can’t believe the idiots in Cali ever elected that joke.

I’d love to see him going toe-to-toe with Chris Christie.

NahnCee on October 20, 2013 at 3:24 PM

They can both wrestle to the death in the mouth of a live volcano.

ThePrimordialOrderedPair on October 20, 2013 at 3:39 PM

I am in this movie as one of the Kabooki “Ninja” Guards. Most of this movie was shot on an Indian tanker moored in the Port of New Orleans – I believe I was told the Indians owed a great deal of taxes and fees and couldn’t leave until they were paid – therefore agreed to shoot the movie for some cash to pay the bills.

The scenes on the inside of the prison were shot at NASA’s Michoud facility in East New Orleans. The scaffolding that the guards are stationed on is actually an old scaffold used to run over the Shuttle’s rocket boosters when being refurbished. The whole facility was dedicated to refurbing and “refoaming” the rocket boosters. Between takes I amused myself by reading the directions on refoaming the boosters. They were pretty an@l of course – owing to the problems with the foam coming off during launch – but it was interesting stuff.

Interesting in how this movie was filmed. I was involved in the “escape” scene also where a helo came in to rescue Swartzerneggar. Now … neither Arnold or Stallone were actually in that scene – only a double for Arnold was used. I didn’t even see a double for Stallone but apparently Stallone was cut into the sequence using movie magic and he held on to the skids of the helo as it took off? I don’t know – going to see the movie today. But none of the stars were involved in the escape shooting actually.

And – it’s probably because they aren’t in shape to perform those things like running and jumping. Maybe Stallone is – he still walks about pretty briskly but Arnold walks like an old man – it was kind of depressing because I’m also a body builder and he was one of my hero’s growing up. Way past his prime now – but a very gregarious guy on the set.

HondaV65 on October 20, 2013 at 3:52 PM

I wouldn’t even think of seeing a movie with Ahnold in it.

ThePrimordialOrderedPair on October 20, 2013 at 3:02 PM

I don’t understand this attitude. Patronize Arnold’s movies so that he won’t have to get back into politics to keep making money! LOL :)

But seriously – it’s just a movie … it’s not really like Arnold takes his money and invests it in liberal causes … like Springstein and John Cougar do. So you’re not damaging the planet by putting money in his wallet!

HondaV65 on October 20, 2013 at 3:56 PM

Thanks for the review, Ed. I’m a big fan of arnold and stallone movies, so I’m dying to see this one. Planning on seeing it wednesday.

Jack_Burton on October 20, 2013 at 3:59 PM

Other than that, Ahnold is still Eurotrash.
ThePrimordialOrderedPair on October 20, 2013 at 3:39 PM

I will never understand this “Eurotrash” thing, especially in the light of the latest 5 years. We are not all the same, many do not feel “European” at all, but we have our national identities.

Besides, we have YET to elect a full blown marxist muslim mulato as president in any of the countries in EU.

To pay with the same coin, the turists from US do seem like huge blobs of lard navigating their way through the old narrow streets, or the pack of silly ever-giggling girls who think the smartest and sexiest European ever is the guy who came with a boat across Mediterranean Sea 2 years ago.

Rookie on October 20, 2013 at 4:02 PM

I am in this movie as one of the Kabooki “Ninja” Guards.
HondaV65 on October 20, 2013 at 3:52 PM

Being an extra is a nice gig. No real work involved, but still a person gets paid and fed. Waiting for the shots to get set up can be tiring, though.

whatcat on October 20, 2013 at 4:52 PM

I’d love to see him going toe-to-toe with Chris Christie.

NahnCee on October 20, 2013 at 3:24 PM

Have to have one hell of a steep list to go toe to toe with Christie. Probably fall over backward.

Oldnuke on October 20, 2013 at 5:02 PM

You’ve got to be freaking kidding me. What was the working title, ESCAPE FROM SHADY ACRES?

M240H on October 20, 2013 at 5:17 PM

I’ll give it a 2.2: Watch it at a friends house after he has purchased or rented the DVD.

Bubba Redneck on October 20, 2013 at 5:34 PM

You’ve got to be freaking kidding me. What was the working title, ESCAPE FROM SHADY ACRES?

M240H on October 20, 2013 at 5:17 PM

THREAD WINNER!

Bubba Redneck on October 20, 2013 at 5:34 PM

(from eariler today, just got back)

There it was…the tell-tale signs of gradually filling bladder. Like clockwork. The 32oz. Coke Zero, but I tried to throw him off by NOT getting the Milk Duds this time.

Right on schedule, approximately 1 hour, 21 minutes and 32 seconds I hit the button to set my AMC movie theater recliner back to normal, got up and dashed for the b-room. Bastard!

And I knew that Breslin knew that at that moment I …HAD to go to the b-room. I quickly told my friend Frank (not his realname to protect the innocent) to text me when that weasel makes his break.

But Breslin was always one step ahead of me…yah, that hot blonde lady with NO ring on her finger just happens to intercept me as I step out of the protection of the Men’s room, knowing full well the Western chivalrous side of me can’t resist a chance to be a hero. Bastard!

He’s already budgeted in the two minute further delay in getting back to my seat from the crusade he leads me on. Then her husband just happens to hit her on her cellphone. Bastard!.

By now I’m on to him but it is too damn late, as I get back to my seat panting. My friend is gone off smokin a cigarette like he always does after a movie just outside the theater, my phone is off due to those damn public messages to turn off my phone before the start of the movie. The credits are rolling and that punk Breslin is gone forever. Bastard!

All I can do is speculate on my new prison nickname amongst the inmates: Bladder Boy? Big Gulp? Coke Zero?

OK, on a serious note, this was a fun movie and I would rate it the same as Ed. Enjoy.

KirknBurker on October 20, 2013 at 6:01 PM

You’ve got to be freaking kidding me. What was the working title, ESCAPE FROM SHADY ACRES?

M240H on October 20, 2013 at 5:17 PM

THREAD WINNER!

Bubba Redneck on October 20, 2013 at 5:34 PM

There is a wheel chair chase scene that reminds me of a scene from Ben Hur.

CWchangedhisNicagain on October 20, 2013 at 6:14 PM

I don’t know why Ed bothers trying to educate the “I won’t go see a movie with libruls in it” philistines.

RayinVA on October 20, 2013 at 6:18 PM

I don’t know why Ed bothers trying to educate the “I won’t go see a movie with libruls in it” philistines.

RayinVA on October 20, 2013 at 6:18 PM

?? Where in this article does Ed try to “educate” us about the politics of the actors and why we should go/not go due to said politics?

I appreciate Ed’s reviews regardless of whether I will see them or not and cannot speak as to why he posts them, but my guess is probably to have something that is different that the same gloomy political garbage, especially on slow Sundays.

Not sure what your point is here – whether you have reading comprehension issues or are just a moron troll.

kim roy on October 20, 2013 at 7:30 PM

Increasingly, the internet is populated by people whose only post is “haven’t seen it / who cares?” I think a “who cares?” post may be even more annoying than a “you’re a moron” post, because there is *no* reason for it, other than trying to trumpet one’s superiority to everyone else for having seen it and taking the time to discuss it.

OK, you’re too young and virile and smart and successful to watch a movie with Stallone and Schwarzenegger starring. Congratulations – you are a super-person and ever so much better than everyone else — the mere mortals who go to movies. Doesn’t that make you feel swell now?

I didn’t think so.

NahnCee on October 20, 2013 at 7:34 PM

HondaV65 on October 20, 2013 at 3:52 PM

Thank you! ROTFLMAOF

Peri Winkle on October 20, 2013 at 11:02 PM

Let us root for the guards.
Funny thing is Ahnold and Stallone wouldn’t last a fortnight in a real prison.
Willis on the other hand.
Always wondered if the guy in the Iron Man movies ever keeps in touch with his old cell “buddies”.
Is Wesley Snipes still showering with Spike and Hardbody or is he walking the streets again?

Bubba Redneck on October 21, 2013 at 7:56 AM

Caveizel has been essentially blacklisted since The Passion. It’s nice to see someone giving him work again.

The Schaef on October 21, 2013 at 9:32 AM

Besides, we have YET to elect a full blown marxist muslim mulato as president in any of the countries in EU.

Rookie on October 20, 2013 at 4:02 PM

Oh, dayum! Nice defense, there, Rookie! Better watch for the rope-a-dope now! ;)

KirknBurker on October 20, 2013 at 6:01 PM

Nicely done!

I know someone who will just *have* to see this in the theater. I might go with her. Or I just might stay home and watch Kindergarten Cop, instead. :p

GWB on October 21, 2013 at 9:55 AM

Caveizel has been essentially blacklisted since The Passion. It’s nice to see someone giving him work again.

The Schaef on October 21, 2013 at 9:32 AM

WTH are you talking about? The guy has his own TV show on a major network, Person of Interest, on CBS.

M240H on October 21, 2013 at 10:46 AM