Monday, October 21, 2013

In Theaters: ESCAPE PLAN (2013)

(US - 2013)

Directed by Mikael Hafstrom.  Written by Miles Chapman and Arnell Jesko.  Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jim Caviezel, Vincent D'Onofrio, Amy Ryan, Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson, Sam Neill, Vinnie Jones, Faran Tahir, Graham Beckel, Matt Gerald, Caitriona Balfe. (R, 115 mins)

Though THE EXPENDABLES and its sequel proved to be surprise hits, they failed to kickstart a geriatric action movement for aging warhorses like 67-year-old Sylvester Stallone and 66-year-old Arnold Schwarzenegger.  Their early 2013 solo releases--BULLET TO THE HEAD and THE LAST STAND, respectively--tanked at the box office as audiences stayed far away despite generally positive reviews for both.  The sad fact is that teenagers make up most of the theatrical audience, and kids today aren't really interested in what '80s action icons are doing.  Hell, they won't even go see Jason Statham movies at this point, and he's only 46.  Much like aging rock bands going out on four-band package tours, these dinosaur action fossils only seem to generate some box office when they're all together, hence, next summer's EXPENDABLES 3.  For fans of these guys in their prime, these things are a blast.  I can't think of a more giddy moment in a 2012 movie than Stallone, Schwarzenegger, and Bruce Willis standing side-by-side with guns blazing in THE EXPENDABLES 2.  If you can't get behind that, then we don't have anything more to discuss.

Here, Stallone is Ray Breslin, who makes a lucrative living breaking out of prisons.  A legend in his field, Breslin literally wrote the book on correctional facility security measures.  His business partner Lester (Vincent D'Onofrio) presents him with an offer for double their usual fee:  incarceration at The Tomb (the film's original title), an off-the-grid, privately-funded, state-of-the-art facility that houses the worst of the worst.  Going in undercover as a South American terrorist named Porthos, Breslin immediately tangles with Warden Hobbes (Jim Caviezel) and his crew of masked security guards led by Drake (Vinnie Jones, cast radically against type as "Vinnie Jones").  But he finds an ally in Rottmayer (Schwarzenegger), who's been dumped into The Tomb for his association with his boss, an international criminal named Mannheim.  After trading barbs and busting one another's balls, Breslin and Rottmayer concoct an elaborate escape plan (duh) when Breslin learns that someone has paid big money to keep him locked in The Tomb so he'll disappear for good.

ESCAPE PLAN obviously doesn't compare with the best from these fellas' heyday, but if you miss the feeling of old-school '80s action, it gets the job done.  It may be a tad longish at 115 minutes, and it could probably use a more appropriate director than Swedish journeyman Mikael Hafstrom (DERAILED, 1408, THE RITE), who does a workmanlike job but doesn't really bring a lot to the proceedings (why isn't Isaac Florentine getting a job like this?), but it's undeniable fun.  Hafstrom at least has the sense to somehow get the two stars dangling from a chopper for the climax.  Stallone and Schwarzenegger work so well together that you wish they'd teamed up two decades ago and spared Stallone from the likes of STOP! OR MY MOM WILL SHOOT.  Stallone glowers and grumbles his way through the film, surprisingly letting Schwarzenegger be the showy comic relief and the Governator runs with it, whether he's starting fights and insulting other inmates, getting thrown in lockdown and ranting in German, or telling Breslin "You hit like a vegetarian."  Schwarzenegger even gets the film's best moment, grabbing a machine gun (Hafstrom gives him a close up of his eyes squinting) and turning around in slo-mo as he starts blasting Hobbes' goonish guards.

The big guys are obviously the show here, but there's a sizable supporting cast of reliable pros, and 50 Cent.  Fiddy and Amy Ryan play Breslin's associates, and it's nice to see Sam Neill on the big screen again, even if it's in a thankless role as the prison doctor. As far as movie wardens go, Caviezel is an appropriately sneering, cartoonish bad guy, snapping his fingers at the guards in lieu of giving orders and introduced tending to his butterfly collection and prissily dusting lint from his perfectly-pressed suit.  D'Onofrio turns in yet another mannered, tic-heavy turn as Lester, sporting a goofy fedora, a grating "Da Bearsss!" accent, and constantly squirting hand sanitizer into his palm.  When's the last time D'Onofrio gave a real performance in anything?  The guy's done some great work (admittedly, when you start with FULL METAL JACKET, you set the bar pretty high), but since his divisive run on LAW & ORDER: CRIMINAL INTENT (I thought he was terrific), it seems like everything he's done is filled with exaggerated accents, off-the-wall quirks, fidgeting, and a crutch-like reliance on props as a way of establishing a character.  D'Onofrio's the kind of actor who needs a strong director to rein him in, and he rarely gets it.  Some of his recent overdone turns in films like CHAINED and PAWN SHOP CHRONICLES make his work as noseless meth kingpin Pooh Bear in THE SALTON SEA look restrained and low-key by comparison.  When did he throw it all away to become the Nicolas Cage of supporting actors?

I dug ESCAPE PLAN, but I'm admittedly grading it on a curve.  It's nowhere near the level of the best work of either of its stars (and even they fall victim to trends with some janky CGI in the second half, but it's not a deal-breaker) and it gets by largely on their presence alone.  But it's just nice to see these guys still headlining action movies at their age.  There isn't much in the way of star power at the multiplex these days--sure, you've got the occasional George Clooney, Sandra Bullock, or Brad Pitt, but when's the last time you heard anyone say 'That new Chris Hemsworth movie ruled!"?  When's the last time you were standing in line at the concession stand and overheard someone declare "I never miss a Chris Pine movie!"?   Where are the big screen action stars?  There's only franchises and brands.  Like going to see a past-their-prime band at a small club instead of the arenas they once played, a new Stallone/Schwarzenegger flick is a nostalgia trip dismissed by many, but as long as they keep offering them, they can count me in.

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