Blu-ray Review: Escape Plan

By , Contributor
Escape Plan is a schizophrenic thriller that struggles to find the right tone. Though it never quite succeeds, a solid level of competence is consistently maintained. The interesting cast, though not pushed nearly as far as they should’ve been, helps keep things entertaining. Those who insist it’s an ‘80s-era action throwback are wrong—this is clearly a modern, high-tech thriller with aspirations that go far beyond that of a brawny shoot-‘em-up. The notion of a secret, super-maximum security prison, housing inmates who have been “disappeared” for various acts of international terrorism (often only suspected), carries strong and obvious parallels to Guantanamo Bay that are not fully explored. Suspicions run high that once Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger signed on, any political commentary was minimized as the film morphed into something of a buddy flick.

Stallone and Schwarzenegger, of course, have recently worked together on a far more limited basis in the two Expendables films. That all-star franchise (part three arrives in August) is, in fact, a deliberate ‘80s-style action romp. As unlikely as it may seem (especially when considering this film’s numerous over-the-top moments), Escape Plan aims for something considerably more nuanced. The less one knows about the plot, the better. Though not all of its many plot twists are entirely convincing (or, in some cases, thoroughly explained), there are some neat surprises along the way. In a nutshell, Ray Breslin (Stallone) and Emil Rottmayer (Schwarzenegger) are strangers who quickly become allies in a state-of-the-art prison. Their goal, of course, is to get out. Standing in their way is the sadistic warden Willard Hobbes (Jim Caviezel).

Escape Plan new orleans 1.jpgTo go any further in discussing the plot requires at least minor spoilers, so consider yourself warned. Even the trailer reveals that Breslin is a man who breaks out of prisons for a living. He literally wrote the book on escaping from even the highest security institutions, providing invaluable information about the weaknesses that allow real prisoners to flee. Not enough is made of Breslin’s reasons for choosing such a grueling lifestyle, though we get some idea late in the film. When he accepts the challenge of breaking out of “The Tomb,” a unique penitentiary in an unknown location, Breslin has met his match. All his usual safety protocols are abandoned as he finds himself seemingly incarcerated for real. His team on the outside, including Abigail Ross (Amy Ryan) and Hush (Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson), has no way of tracking him.

There are a handful of really creative sequences, including a stretch in solitary confinement for Breslin, Rottmayer, and a Muslim inmate they’re working with, Javed (Faran Tahir, delivering one of the film’s most interesting performances). “The Tomb” itself is visually arresting—an array of clear, Plexiglas cells guarded by men costumed in all-black uniforms (including featureless, mannequin-like masks). Seeing Breslin utilizing Sherlock Holmes-like observation skills to identify the prison’s vulnerable points is captivating fun.

Escape Plan a 1.jpgUnfortunately, not all of the eclectic cast’s potential is fully mined. Neither Vincent D’Onofrio (as Breslin’s associate) nor Sam Neill (as the prison doctor, struggling with ethical issues) are given their due—despite both actors’ best efforts. The biggest waste is Amy Ryan, a terrific actress (Oscar-nominated for her stunning turn in Gone Baby Gone) whose role as Breslin’s quasi-love interest (the actual nature of their relationship is left undefined) consists mostly of skeptical looks. Caviezel, though subtly menacing, could’ve used more help from the screenplay (by Miles Chapman and James Keller) in defining his character. The main attraction, without a doubt, is seeing action titans Stallone and Schwarzenegger starring together. Both actors turn in likable, surprisingly relaxed performances. Arnold, in particular, is a hoot in his show-stopping freak-out scene, delivered entirely in his native German.

On a technical level, the Escape Plan Blu-ray is exactly what we’ve come to expect in this age of near-perfection. Given that this is a moderately well-budgeted action film, shot digitally by cinematographer Brendan Galvin, we get the usual crisp, clean imagery. That said, the rather bland, flat, almost over-bright look favored by the filmmakers isn’t exactly flattering. In other words, although Escape Plan presents no technical problems, it looks like every other recent film of its ilk.

Escape Plan b 1.jpgThe defining characteristic of the DTS-HD MA 7.1 is its sense of contrast. Much of the movie doesn’t really need such an expansive sound field, but when the action escalates all channels are extremely well utilized. The music by Alex Heffes (who recently scored Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom) is rather serviceable in terms of establishing mood, but is spread across the spectrum effectively. As the fisticuffs and gunplay become more frequent, the enveloping mix never becomes overwhelming as it maintains a purposeful sense of audio chaos.

Kudos to Summit Entertainment and Lionsgate for not skimping on extras, despite Escape Plan’s meager domestic box office returns (to be fair, the film raked in over $100 million overseas). The commentary track by director Mikael Håfström and writer Miles Chapman is quite informative and sheds a lot of a light on how the original concept was retro-fitted to accommodate the action personas of its headlining stars. Both filmmakers leave the strong impression that they had more on their minds than a mindless action flick.

Escape Plan c 1.jpg“Execute the Plan” is a 22-minute making-of piece that, while promotional in nature, is worth watching. “Maximum Security: The Real Life Tomb” is a 22-minute featurette about real prisons. It’s a strikingly well-made little piece, detailing how facts inspired the fiction. Fun for Sly and Arnold fans, “Clash of the Titans” is a 15-minute piece detailing the stars’ first full co-starring team-up. And even though only one of the several included deleted scenes is important enough to have warranted inclusion in the final cut, it’s nice to see some additional moments (particularly those with Amy Ryan). Also included in the package is a standard DVD and UltraViolet digital copy.

Ultimately, Escape Plan is a film defined more by its missed opportunities than what it actually accomplishes. That doesn’t mean it isn’t fun though. Buoyed by a surprisingly classy ensemble cast and an ambitious (if muddled) plot, this one deserves to find a wider audience.

Images: Summit Entertainment/Lionsgate

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Chaz Lipp is a Seattle-based freelance writer whose focus is music and film. As “The Other Chad,” he has written for the online magazine Blogcritics since 2008. When he’s not writing, Chaz can be found trolling jazz clubs, attempting to find somewhere to play his sax (whether anyone wants to hear…

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