It’s nice to know that, as they enter their golden years, Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger can still carry an action flick, albeit a flimsy, particleboard one like “Escape Plan.” Still, there is modest pleasure to be had watching the Italian Stallion, at 67, and the 66-year-old Austrian Oak, as Schwarzenegger was known in his bodybuilding days, delivering justice to those who would disrupt their retirement.
They may have to stop and rest a bit longer than they used to these days — allowing the movie to sag in the middle — but seeing them together is like a visit to Grandpa’s house for Thanksgiving: musty-smelling and overly familiar, but satisfying.
Just don’t get your hopes up.
“Escape Plan” is the story of Ray Breslin (Stallone), a prison security consultant whose job entails getting incarcerated, just so he can break out, exploiting prisons’ weaknesses in order to correct them. He’s been at it for so long that, as he escapes from one prison in the opening scene, Ray seems almost bored.
Maybe that expression of apathy is meant to show that’s he cool, but here it simply looks like the effect of one Botox injection too many. And yes, Stallone still mumbles like he’s got a mouth full of Novocaine. Half of his dialogue is unintelligible, yet the script, by Miles Chapman and Jason Keller, miraculously doesn’t suffer. The movie is closer to pantomime than Shakespeare anyway.
After the brief prologue, we learn that Ray’s next gig is for the CIA, which we’re told has set up a high-tech penitentiary for the world’s most violent terrorists, in an undisclosed location. Once inside, Ray finds that he’s been set up; he’s not expected to bust out, ever. But who has done this to him, and why? A fellow prisoner, Emil (Schwarzenegger), quickly becomes his protector and co-conspirator.
Now, in case you’ve forgotten, neither Stallone nor Schwarzenegger can act. That’s why they make movies in which they don’t have to. One high point of the film is a slow-motion close-up of Schwarzenegger’s lined and gray-bearded face as he grabs a machine gun, preparing to open up some whoop-ass. Director Mikael Hafstrom, a Swede who until now has specialized in horror films, treats the shot like it was being filmed from a helicopter circling Mount Rushmore.
As he should. The movie’s stars are icons, not thespians.
That job falls to four real actors: Amy Ryan and Vincent D’Onofrio, who play Ray’s business partners; Jim Caviezel, as the sadistic warden; and Sam Neill, playing the kindly prison doctor. Unfortunately, none of their characters are terribly well developed, with the exception of Caviezel’s Warden Hobbes, who comes across as nicely, if one-dimensionally, cray-cray. Rapper Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson is wasted in a tiny role as one of Ray’s co-workers. Vinnie Jones, as a cruel prison guard, does nothing to expand his repertoire beyond playing thugs. And Faran Tahir, as an Islamic terrorist with a heart of gold, is at least not a victim of typecasting.
The plot itself is predictably divorced from reality, containing more holes — and smelling staler — than month-old Swiss cheese.
All of which means that Stallone and Schwarzenegger end up having to do all the heavy lifting. In this case, that means reminding us enough of their former selves that we’re willing to forgive the film’s arthritic plot twists and credulity-straining set-up.
In essence, the movie’s aging stars — progenitors of what has come to be known as the “geri-action” genre — aren’t playing “Ray” and “Emil” so much as ’80s-era versions of “Sly” and “Arnold.”
It’s no wonder that “Escape Plan” feels so old school. It’s just as much about time travel as the “Terminator” films.
R. At area theaters. Contains violence and obscenity. 116 minutes.