Action heroes return and haven't changed a bit
Arnie and Sly stuck in bygone era
By: Scott Hayes
| Posted: Saturday, Oct 26, 2013 06:00 am
Starring Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jim Caviezel, Faran Tahir, Amy Ryan, Sam Neill, Vinnie Jones, 50 Cent and Vincent d'Onofrio
Directed by Mikael Håfström
Rated 14A for genre violence and frequent coarse language
Runtime 116 minutes
Now playing at Cineplex Odeon North Edmonton and Scotiabank Theatre
In Hollywood, what’s old is always new. Everyone knows that there are no new stories.
That idiom has never been more poignant than the last few years when some of the oldest action stars have come out of retirement (or pseudo-retirement for some who have switched careers for a period of, say, eight years) to reenact some of their favourite scenes. A lot of these aged fighters have even teamed up for some movies that are more like class reunions. The ensemble Expendables series, for instance, has seen at least a dozen tough guys of various vintages.
That series was, of course, realized (in more ways than one) by Sylvester Stallone, he of Rocky and Rambo fame. He got some help from former marquee combatant Arnold Schwarzenegger, who performed a brief cameo in each of the series’ two exuberant instalments.
Stallone and Schwarzenegger, longtime foes for the box office bonanza, are now apparent friends. Such is the case for Escape Plan, the long-awaited collaboration between the two action heavies, each as thick with their vocalizations as their musculatures and also their pedigrees. Ever since their heyday in the 1980s, people have been desperate for these two to share screen time.
Now their wish has been fulfilled. Escape Plan features the two with almost equal billing. Even more, the movie practically jumps right out of the same template that rubber-stamped so many of the stars’ own blockbusters.
Here, Stallone plays Ray Breslin, a professional Houdini who breaks out of maximum-security prisons so that they can be certified as inescapable. He gets a contract for a special private prison designed specifically for governments around the world to incarcerate people they deem undesirable for whatever reason. There, he meets Emil Rottmayer (Schwarzenegger) who becomes a witting pawn to his plan. They are hindered by Warden Willard (Jim Caviezel), the most stereotypical and diabolical prison agent there ever was.
The whole premise sends a shiver down my spine. So many countries have their dissidents disappear because they break laws or create political interference. Those antiquated ideologies echo in the ancient paradigm of action movies of yore that this parable of seniors trying to escape the trappings of their youth is riddled with trope-like traps at every turn.
Is the acting bad and/or hackneyed? Yes, just like the screenplay. The script comes across like it was cobbled together by a series of bumper stickers cut and pasted in the most coherent sequence. Each star gets his mandatory one-liner, except that both are uttered with the impact of a bus driver asking for exact change.
Is there the appropriate atmosphere? Yes. Forgettable background characters, some played by recognizable players, flesh out the scenery much as large rolled-out landscape paintings take the place of actual far-off locations. Canned thematic music chimes in to remind us just how the whole production is as much of a rehash of everything that has come before as we hoped it wouldn’t be.
Are the stars unmemorable? Absolutely! It’s almost impossible to distinguish Stallone and Schwarzenegger’s characters of 2013 from those of 1986 when one starred in Cobra and the other in Raw Deal. That was when the former was 40; the latter, the younger Schwarzenegger, was only 39.
The problem is that we expected modernity even with ancient gladiators. The times have changed and we’ve seen this story all too many times before. While it’s nice to finally have Sly and Arnie on screen sharing billing, it would have been practically the same to cut and paste their past efforts onto one reel and pretend like everything has gone back in time 27 years.
Problem is, no one actually wants that, or this.