Escape Plan was directed by Mikael Hafstrom (1408, Outside the Wire), written by Miles Chapman (Road House 2: Last Call, Escape Plan 2: Hades) and Jason Keller (Machine Gun Preacher, Ford v Ferrari)and stars Sylvester Stallone (Eye See You, Rambo) Arnold Schwarzenegger (End of Days, Eraser) Jim Caviezel (Outlander, The Passion of the Christ) Faran Tahir (Warehouse 13, Mad Genius), Vinnie Jones (The Bezonians, I Am Vengeance: Retaliation), Sam Neill (Event Horizon, Jurassic Park) Amy Ryan (Devil’s Knot), 50 Cent (Den of Thieves), and Vincent D’Onofrio (The Cell, Full Metal Jacket). It follows a prison specialist and a prisoner as they try to break out of a secret prison.
The Plot: Escape Plan’s story is of pretty high concept and makes few detours, creating a fun and fascinating meat-and-potatoes game of smarts and endurance. After breaking out of a prison, Ray (Stallone) meets with a CIA lawyer and his own team: businessman Lester (D’Onofrio), assistant Abigail (Ryan), and hacker Hush (50) about testing a private facility. He accepts and is taken but his transponder is cleaved out, waking up in a glass box surrounded by faceless guards.
Ray is “introduced” to warden Hobbes (Caviezel) and guard Drake (Jones), who refuses to let Ray go. Realizing that he’s dead in the water, Ray teams up with fellow prisoners Rottmayer (Schwarzenegger) and Javed (Tahir), with some help from the prison doctor, Kyrie (Neill); all in an effort to circumvent the book he wrote and escape (plan).
The Characters: Most of the characters are good enough. While the main characters are decently interesting, the side characters are pretty bland and their subplots are far less interesting. Ray is solid; a professional escape artist, he has a seemingly infinite pocket of ideas as to how to ascertain escape routes, create tools, and navigate confined areas. These skills paired with a strong ability to appeal to emotion make him interesting and easy to root for. Rottmayer is a magnetic presence. A man with seemingly nothing to lose, he helps in whatever way he can, regardless of risk.
Armed with an acute ability to piss people off, he’s a strong asset to Ray (literally). Hobbes is a control freak with a knack for collection, eager to illustrate his power, his first choice is torture, and his backup is negotiation. There’s a domineering coldness to him with a Bond-esque element of cheese. All the others fill out their roles well but aren’t special. Performances are very good all across the board, although Stallone does play his role too seriously at times, and Caviezel is a bit heavy.
The Thrills: Excitement abounds in the prison. The one thing Hobbes allows I suppose. Ray’s escape in the first 10 minutes gives an excellent idea of what the man can do and what he can create with such a limited amount of help and resources; and once he gets stuck in the prison with Rottmayer, it’s extremely arresting and hard to look away. From using the wax lining of cardboard milk cartons to expanding steel with the use of toothpaste, there’s never a lack of curious contraptions and schemes to come from Ray and Rottmayer.
Even when Escape Plan isn’t focused on makeshift tools, the things that Hobbes does to the both of them, like putting them in metal boxes with searing lights, and waterboarding; there’s never an easy task or a dull moment. What makes all of this even better is the realism of the methods that Ray and Rottmayer use; since the producers and writer consulted prison experts and studied real prison breaks, it all feels plausible.
The Technics: Technically the movie is pretty good. The production design is the most notable thing that Escape Plan has to offer aside from the very good writing. A cold steely atmosphere combined with the glass cells and demoralizing colour palette (the place is mostly blue and grey with spatters of yellow); the look and feel of what’s essentially a top-secret trash can is attained with ease. Pacing is also above average, with very few moments in the movie that don’t serve a purpose, there’s never a reason to look away.
Some issues are present but take little from Escape Plan overall. While the practical stuff is good, there’s some bad CGI from time to time. It’s mostly related to exterior shots, but it can be distracting. Hobbes’ comeuppance is a bit weak and the subplot with Ray’s team isn’t as involving, though thankfully the movie steers away from it for long periods of time. It all comes out well in the end.
Escape Plan strictly denies cliche in lieu of realism. Thanks to large doses of creativity, a star-studded cast, and a strong sense of place; there’s always something interesting going on, even if the movie ends up where you’d expect it to.
Escape Plan is available on Digital, DVD, Blu-Ray and 4K from Lionsgate.