Ray Breslin (Sylvester Stallone) has been incarcerated inside this maximum security prison where now he is seeing to it that he is sent to solitary by getting the first punch in when he hears one of the other prisoners wishes to attack him. Once there, he maintains his watchfulness and begins to draw up his plans for escape by doing apparently random things such as wadding toilet paper or taking a milk carton to pieces, the guards oblivious as to what he is actually up to as Breslin spends most of his time sitting in the middle of the floor. But a day or two passes when suddenly a car explodes outside the prison gates, and by the time the nearby fire station has dealt with the blaze - Breslin has gone.
Although Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger - two action stars of a certain vintage who could be identified solely by their distinctive surnames, that's how well known they were - had appeared together in The Expendables and its sequel, fans felt there was a more promising team up which could feature them but had not been made yet. Funnily enough, the two celebrities felt the same way, and at last, after almost three decades of planning but failing to take equal billing in an action movie worthy of them, in 2013 they joined forces for Escape Plan. This turned out to be one of those movies, like Pacific Rim the same year, which performed far better at the box office overseas than it did in its native United States.
Was this because the dynamic duo had aged out of their fanbase in America but were far from past it abroad? That could have been something to do with it, and those two merely adequate Expendables efforts didn't exactly whet the appetite for more collaborations, yet a solid script from Miles Chapman, with help from a pseudonymous Jason Keller, played to each actor's strengths in a way that few of their more recent projects had done. Schwarzenegger at least had the excuse of being away from the screen thanks to his political career, but Stallone had been plugging away at the by-now ageing action hero role as if he were a man twenty, thirty years younger, with mostly sarcastic comments from commentators professional and otherwise to show for it.
Here he was given a few funny lines, but his Breslin character was more of the stoic type that Stallone was surprisingly not bad at all at portraying in light of his desire to be seen as a funnyman in many of his projects. Schwarzenegger had made his name combining impenetrable stoniness with a line in black humour, though what was pleasing to watch here was how casually amusing he could be, as if he had finally gotten the hang of how to deliver a joke in English. Of course, his way with words was near-legendary, especially among amateur impressionists, but there was a comfort with the dialogue in this which, although he was essentially the sidekick to Stallone, meant he stole the movie from not inconsiderable competition. All that and he got to speak German as well when his Rottmayer character was thrown into solitary in a prison Breslin is taken to.
That's the high concept: Breslin makes a living testing jails, and if he can break out (he always does) the authorities can improve their security. However, this latest incarceration is different: someone wants him put away for good and has built a Breslin-proof, therefore anyone-proof, prison. Will that stop him trying? Governor Jim Caviezel (channelling Patrick McGoohan in Escape from Alcatraz) believes it will, even if the new arrival has made an ally with Rottmayer he is keeping alive because he has important information on a Robin Hood figure who needs to be caught. As Breslin's team - concerned girlfriend Amy Ryan, cast against type computer expert 50 Cent (with specs) and his boss Vincent D'Onofrio (gee, which of those sold him out?) - try to track him down, the man himself sets about breaking his bonds and discovering a lot of the time you cannot work alone, meaning collaboration is your best bet, with Sam Neill as the doctor and Faran Tahir turning out to be a sympathetic Muslim his main cohorts. Silly but smart with it, Escape Plan was unexpectedly strong all round. Music by Alex Heffes.