Less than two short decades ago, ’80s action megastars Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger began to feel the world changing around them. Having arm-wrestled and last-action-heroed their way into early retirement on account of several decidedly futile battles with the increasing boredom of box office patrons, they gave way to a rising boom in the demand for direct-to-video fare: articles of B-moviemaking best suited for their lower-rent counterparts such as former marquee heralders Jean-Claude Van Damme and Steven Seagal. From there, Stallone stuck to opening Hard Rock Cafes, while Schwarzenegger opted to take up a career in politics. And, while a majority of all consider both to have been huge mistakes, all they had to really do was to wait a good twenty-five to thirty years for that which used to be old to become new again.
Well, here we are. A few years back, Stallone revitalized his all-but deceased career by returning to the two roles that made him a superstar (Rocky Balboa and Rambo, in case you haven’t done your homework), before paying his respects to the glory days of all-star action flicks with the first two installments of The Expendables – which allowed a now-disgraced Governor of California Schwarzenegger to return to the screen as well. And while I must confess to being somewhat surprised as to how quickly both performers succumbed to making movies like Escape Plan – which is a B-movie no matter how you look at it – I must also admit to being pleasantly surprised by what I saw here.
For starters – and this is, without a doubt, the most important aspect of all here – they had fun with it. Stallone, looking more hardened and leathery than ever, stars here as Ray Breslin – a penitentiary security expert (which is a fancier way of saying he’s a professional prison-breaker-outer) who gets a tempting offer to have himself thrown into a supposedly escape-proof private prison known around the world as “The Tomb”. Trouble is, once Ray gets in, he discovers his true identity has been obscured and that his incarceration has become genuinely real. And of course, as one might expect, the prison is staffed by the bloodthirsty likes of guard Vinnie Jones and warden Jim Caviezel (the battered Jesus himself, whose second coming is obviously not going over so well – which makes way for a hammy performance all-around).
So, stuck in a high-tech complex that his ultra-tech-savvy cronies (Vincent D’Onofrio, Amy Ryan, and Curtis ’50 Cent’ Jackson, the latter of whom Escape Plan‘s makers were wise enough to not only subdue in his limited scenes, but to not draw any attention to his name in the credits or promotional handling) cannot locate, Ray is forced to befriend fellow inmate Emil Rottmayer (Arnold, who frankly looks pretty darn good here) in order to devise a titular strategy. Faran Tahir co-stars as a Muslim inmate, while a rather bored-looking Sam Neill suddenly pops up out of nowhere midway through the film as the prison’s perturbed physician.
Summit Entertainment/Lionsgate Films present Escape Plan in a Blu-ray/DVD/Digital HD combo pack. The Blu-ray boasts an enjoyable 1080p/AVC transfer which presents the movie in a 2.39:1 aspect ratio. While the video quality may not be as immaculate as what we see from those major A-list releases, it is still very good nonetheless. A 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack delivers most spectacularly – especially during the film’s many action scenes, while alternate audio options include a Dolby Digital 5.1 Spanish track, an optimized DD 2.0 mix (so you can watch this one late at night without waking anyone up), and a Descriptive Audio selection (for those who can’t watch it at all).
Special features for this thoroughly groovy throwback include an audio commentary with director Mikael Håfström and co-writer Miles Chapman (who, thanks to marvels in modern technology, recorded the track whilst on opposite sides of the coast), several featurettes (which dive into the making-of, real life prisons, and the movie’s two stars), and several deleted scenes (wherein those of you left with feelings of ire over a somewhat large hole in the story may find some sort of satisfaction).
Could it have been better? Sure. That said, Escape Plan rises above its contemporary impossible-to-watch competitors adroitly as a standard no-brainer popcorn action flick that is crafted efficiently as any of Stallone/Schwarzenegger’s better ’80s efforts. It’s plain ol’ good silly fun – but ’tis a pity such a film could not receive a wider, better-received theatrical effort in this sad world where people flock to the latest Transformers film in drones. But then, twenty-plus years ago, many of us were congregating to moviehouses to see the latest Stallone/Schwarzenegger films – while those who had grown to regard then-modern cinema as puerile and obnoxious sought to see something of a more limited fare.
Full circles, kids. Full circles.