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.