Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger together on screen? That can only mean plenty of action! Wrong thought: Your first big film together “Escape Plan” is a clever prison breakout thriller that was wrongly underestimated, according to TVSPIELFILM.de volunteer Michael Hille.
Every action fan knows that Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger were great competitors for ages. While one as a one-man army “Rambo” kept mouths open, the other as the ice-cold killer robot “Terminator” found its prime role. For years they were the leading voices in action cinema and liked to stage themselves as rivals. When Arnie made a joke about Stallone in “Last Action Hero” in 1993, Stallone built a point against the ex-bodybuilder in his “Demolition Man”.
In 2010 they were seen together on the screen for the first time, in a scene from the film “The Expendables”. Both appeared in the sequel, but hardly had any moments in common. They should only appear as a real team for the first time in 2013: In “Escape Plan” both have to work together to appear from a maximum security prison. A cool concept, but the movie was only described as “nice” by many fans of the stars. “Escape Plan” is one of the coolest films in its genre, which was believed to be dead. You can even go further and say: if you liked the series “Prison Break”, you really have to love “Escape Plan”.
Escape Plan: A professional escapee in captivity
“Escape Plan” is about the security expert Ray Breslin (Stallone), who specializes in the detection of security gaps in prisons. In other words: he deliberately allows himself to be locked up in maximum security prisons and then tries to break out. This is how the prison directors learn how they can improve their processes and systems. So far, Breslin has broken out of every jail … so far. When he lets himself be imprisoned in a CIA prototype, he is betrayed by his employee and has to quickly learn that he is at the end of his life with this heavily guarded little kitten of a different kind.
But Breslin doesn’t want to give up without a fight. In prison, called “Das Grab”, he befriends the prisoner Emil Rottmayer (Schwarzenegger). Rottmayer is regularly tortured by the diabolical prison director Willard Hobbs in order to divulge information about his boss, the mysterious criminal genius Viktor Mannheim. Together, Breslin and Rottmayer may have a chance to regain freedom. Unexpected help beckons them from Dr. Emil Kyrie, the prison doctor who Breslin speaks to his conscience …
Broken expectations: smart characters instead of action heroes
The big disappointment for action fans was that “Escape Plan” is not a trigger-happy adrenaline cracker, as the names Schwarzenegger & Stallone might suggest. Instead, director Mikael Håfström shot a calm, intelligent and exciting thriller, which on the one hand is in the tradition of classic breakout films such as “The Condemned” or of course “Papillon”, but in its cool and modern staging is reminiscent of the popular series “Prison Break”. Stallone is not playing an old Rambo, not a warrior with a fat gun in hand, but a clever thinker, a modern Houdini. Schwarzenegger is not a dumb ballerina either, but an intellectual criminal who expresses himself in a more sophisticated way than any of the Arnie characters before.
“Escape Plan” is a game with the expectation: Sly and Arnie will blow their way out of the way, one or the other action fan might think at the beginning. But their muscles don’t get them very far: the trained team of CIA guards is clearly superior to them both physically and numerically. And their broad upper arms are also useless against the torture of the guard Hobbes: In isolation cells, they are left to simmer, like in a microwave. Arnie even whines for mercy at the painful ordeal. No wonder fans were critical of the film. They had hoped for more action, more explosions, more coolness from the great merging of their heroes. But precisely because of this, they were blind to the strengths of the film.
“Escape Plan” is currently also available on Netflix.
In addition to Arnie and Sly: Series star plays sensational villains
Because Schwarzenegger and Stallone were seldom so challenged as actors. It may not be a secret that Sly is a great actor, as he proved it at the beginning of his career in the first “Rocky” film. But over the years there wasn’t much of that to be seen in his action roles. In “Escape Plan” he was able to show what he was made of – and his palpable desperation as Breslin is a later, new proof of what an exceptional actor slumbers in Stallone. Schwarzenegger’s acting was perhaps never as good as here: The ambiguous facets of his character make him a complex hero.
The rest of the cast is also great: The always great Vincent D “Onofrio is there as a nasty traitor, Sam Neill gets a slightly better role as a doctor. But the sensation is Jim Caviezel: The character actor is a formidable villain as the prison chief. His callous , Inhuman cruelty makes him a hateful figure, and one cannot expect Sly and Arnie to get their hands on him. He is the big highlight of the film and, due to his diabolical sophistication, one of the toughest villains Sly or Arnie with Caviezel shot the series “Person of Interest” parallel to the film and, funnily enough, kept his iconic suit for “Escape Plan”.
The script is also strong: American intelligence is shown here as corrupt and ruthless. The explicit torture scenes are clear allusions to the practices in Guantanamo Bay in the war on terror. Another critical point is the fact that the privatization of prisons can lead to democratic deficits and abuse of power. On a small scale, the CIA maximum security prison is ultimately a totalitarian regime in which individualism is strictly observed under the microscope.
Action-packed finale: At the end of the day it’s still on the twelve
Of course, despite the strong staging, you want to see your heroes in action after all, and that’s exactly what happens: In the final third, Breslin and Rottmeyer try to break out, and now it becomes lead and one or the other explosion still finds its way onto that Canvas. Action fans can rest assured: After the exciting thriller aspects, the rapid adrenaline rush will be delivered after all. And so everyone gets their money’s worth with “Escape Plan”: More demanding film fans and the younger ones of the 80s music cinema.
In Germany, the film received a lot of criticism from fans for its German dubbing: Normally Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger are both dubbed by the German Thomas Danneberg. On “Escape Plan” he only spoke Stallone, on Arnie you can hear Ralph Schicha instead. That may sound strange to German ears. But if you give Schicha a fair chance, it can be said that he is doing his job in the best possible way.
“Escape Plan” is worth looking at for a second time
So if you can live with the fact that Arnie and Sly tend to play with each other for an entire film rather than shooting through hordes of opponents, you should definitely rediscover “Escape Plan”. And everyone else should be told: perseverance is worth it, because the big orgy of action follows … with a little delay. One thing is certain: the two actors have rarely been seen in such good shape. So anyone who caught the film on the wrong foot in 2013 should take a second look.
A little tip: Even fans should avoid the sequels “Escape Plan: Hades” and “Escape Plan: The Extractors”. Both cheaply produced DVD films are completely inedible.
“Escape Plan” runs on June 13th at 11:45 pm on ZDF.
This article first appeared on TVSpielfilm.de.