Friday, October 25, 2013

Rohan: Escape Plan

(TODAY'S GUEST: Rohan Morbey, who blogs at Stop Thinking For Yourself UK, returns to share his thoughts on Escape Plan, with Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger. We're always happy to welcome Rohan back to Jaman HQ, and hope you will follow him on Twitter.)

Rewind about 20 years ago. Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger were THE go-to stars for pure action movies, with perhaps only Bruce Willis in the same league for the production of adrenalin-fuelled macho cinema. You always knew what you were getting when either of these two names were splashed over the movie poster, even if the quality of output (Cliffhanger, True Lies, Assassins, Demolition Man, Last Action Hero, The Specialist) had its highs and lows to say the least.

Although they may have owned a restaurant chain together, the chances of seeing these two action heroes sharing the same screen back then was as inconceivable as the director of Charlie’s Angels being hired to direct a future Terminator movie. That would never, ever, ever happen. Would it...?

How times change. Here we are, two decades on and after teasing us with cameo appearances in The Expendables films, Stallone and Schwarzenegger are finally together, but is it all too late to have an impact on action cinema? Are these two former kings of the genre even relevant to today’s audiences which seem content with Fast 6 and Taken 2?

The answer is... maybe. Escape Plan is sheer and unadulterated fun, the likes of which is so seldom seen anymore because it knows its limits. The script isn’t written with the aim to please fanboys, and it revels in its straightforward concept without feeling the need to complicate things by becoming too clever and ripping off recently successful films and their ideas. Moreover, the film doesn’t play on the stars’ previous successes or rely on famous catchphrases and winks and nods to validate their existence.

The picture would have made the ideal vehicle for either star during their heyday and director Mikael Hafstrom has made a film which feels like a throwback to that mid-90s period. Despite a few cheap and obvious CGI effects, Escape Plan has a tough and raw edge to it with its muted colours, fist fights, tough language, gunplay, and a focus on practical stunt work, especially in the final third when the plan to escape gets going. Any film where Stallone is hanging from a helicopter and firing guns can’t be doing too much wrong as far as I’m concerned.

The supporting cast is a mixed bag. On one hand you have James Caviezel hamming it up as the prison warden, evil and sadistic like any ‘good’ bad guy, and Amy Ryan as the quasi love interest, although terribly underused; on the other hand there is Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson delivering lines like he’s reading them from a colouring book, and Vinnie Jones who, whilst not terrible, has zero screen presence.

With perhaps the exception of Schwarzenegger’s collaborations with James Cameron, most of the set-pieces in the 90’s actioneers would be considered ‘small’ by the levels of on-screen mayhem which modern audiences are used to, but Stallone and Schwarzenegger stick to their roots with this film. The action scale builds up, but saves the real spectacle for the finale, giving the audience something to cheer for rather than wearing them down with action and noise before the final act even gets going. Again, the film knows its limits and boundaries, and delivers what we expect, if nothing else.

Yes, it is simple and yes, it is offers nothing to comment on other than one’s enjoyment of the set-pieces within, but sometimes that is all you want from an action picture; and although Escape Plan is by no means the best piece of entertainment this year, it’s certainly one of the most successful in delivering what you expect from your admission fee. Now, if only this were 1993 with John McTiernan directing and Joel Silver producing a Steven E. de Souza penned script...

If you like Escape Plan, I also recommend:

Cliffhanger (1993, d. Renny Harlin): The best of Sly Stallone’s 90s action films. Highly under-rated.

Eraser (1996, d. Chuck Russell): The last out and out Schwarzenegger action picture which brought in audiences on his name alone. $100 million budget, pure action spectacle.

The Rock (1996, d. Michael Bay): The mother of all prison-set action pictures, but also the beginning of the end for muscle-bound charismatic action heroes.

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