Escape Plan (Håfström, 2013)


Every good escape plan needs three things:

1) Guards that shoot like stormtroopers.

2) A sadistic warden who will become so consumed by his own rage that he will be distracted from what’s happening right under his nose.

3) A token minority member willing to sacrifice so that the white protagonist(s) can get away.

No, that’s not right…it’s…it’s…something about layout and routine and…oh, who cares, look it’s Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger using their super brains instead of their super brawn!

Escape Plan is a film that never takes itself too seriously but doesn’t want to settle for stupid. Stallone plays Ray Breslin, a security expert who breaks out of prisons in order to test their weaknesses. After the film’s opening escape, he is lured by a dangerous but irresistible offer. Double his normal fee to test an “off the grid” prison that holds the criminals that the world’s governments want to make disappear. Two of his partners, Abigail (Amy Ryan) and Hush (Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson) balk at the stipulations, but the third, Lester (Vincent D’Onofrio), vouches for the government agent making the offer and encourages him to do it. I wonder which one is setting him up?

If you’ve seen the trailer you know the rest. If you haven’t, you don’t need to be a mastermind to guess. Within ten minutes of being picked up, Ray knows something is wrong. The guards remove a tracking device that has been implanted on him. The warden has a different name than his alleged contact.  When Ray uses his emergency evacuation code nothing happens. Now he has to play the game for real. Or should I say “now he has to play the game…for real!!!”

I tease because the movie wears its own stupidity on its sleeve, but I didn’t hate this movie. It is a hard movie to hate, actually. Impossible to esteem, sure, and it strikes me as a movie I can’t possibly imagine anyone loving. To hate it, though, one would have to find it either pretentious or lacking in entertainment value. And while it keeps threatening to take itself too seriously by dropping in unrelated “theme” bombs–about government surveillance, extreme rendition, torture as an interrogation technique, and the essential moral inferiority of all lawyers–it holds those themes at arm’s length. They provide the seasoning for a somewhat conventional breakout picture. In many ways–and I say this with my tongue only half in my cheek–it is the movie I wish Gravity had been: a film content to put all its imagination into the mechanics of the plot and dismiss almost entirely the elements of theme and character that it deep-down thinks are irrelevant.

It’s been three days since I’ve seen Escape Plan, and I’m still unsure of who Schwarzenegger’s character was, what his relationship was to the forces on the outside, or why, if the prison is “off the grid” and there are no civil rights, he gets to wander around in the courtyard and hatch schemes with the new inmate. Sam Neill plays a doctor whose conscience is pricking him and Vinnie Jones does a nice turn as a guard whose conscience appears to bother him not at all. Jim Cavaziel is a warden who examines butterflies and speaks really precisely. Everyone is half a click over the top, but only half a click. Nobody protects themselves by pretending any of this has the remotest connection to reality in any way.

Any lingering doubts that the movie is not in on its own willing suspension of disbelief comes when Ray displays some bit of arcane but useful MacGyverish piece of intellectual minutiae. Scharzannger looks at Stallone in mock-surprise. “You don’t look like you’re that smart,” he says, or words to that effect. Everyone in the audience laughed, as Stallone knew we would. Everyone.

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