Somewhere, the 14-year-old version of me is really excited. The possibility of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone -- who, between the two of them, were responsible for some of the most ass-kicking movies of my youth -- have teamed up in earnest for a cool-sounding movie called "Escape Plan."
In it, Stallone plays a guy who is imprisoned for a living. It's his job to break out of maximum security prisons, which apparently is a thing, and then report back on the system's weaknesses. Except that one day he's double-crossed and plopped in The Tomb, an experimental prison that was designed with Stallone's findings in mind. Here, he teams up with another mysterious inmate played by Schwarzenegger and they try to make a break for it.
So does "Escape Plan" measure up? And what would the 14-year-old version of myself think? Read on to find out!
1. The Title Card Is Disappointing
Now, I know this is a weird thing to harp on, but think about the iconic title cards of action movies from the '80s and '90s (movies that Stallone and Schwarzenegger often starred in) -- the loud clunk of the "Die Hard" title card, the abrupt cut to black for "Predator," the silvery metallic sheen of "Terminator 2: Judgment Day" (it had flames reflected it in for crying out loud!). These warned you that you were in for a severe ass-kicking so you better hold on tight. But the "Escape Plan" title card is fleeting and has the kind of generic font you'd expect to see on the side of a NASCAR stock car. It's a bad omen.
2. It Should Be Ruder
The movie, pre-title card, starts with Stallone getting into a prison yard brawl and stabbing some big beefy dude with a sharp object. But that's where the brutality stops. It's just that, when you have a movie starring Schwarzenegger and Stallone that's at least attempting to offer up the go-for-broke thrills of the '80s and '90s action movie heyday, then you should make it a little bit more in-your-face. It was practically a law that at least one scene in all of those movies had to take place in a strip club, and blood didn't just gush from gunshot wounds or stabbings, it practically fountained. So for "Escape Plan" to be so genteel so much of the time feels like a real disappointment and a missed opportunity.
3. 'Bullet to the Head' and 'The Last Stand' Are Way Better
Earlier this year, Warner Bros. released "Bullet to the Head," which was directed by genuine genre legend Walter Hill. That movie was fun and exciting and incredibly violent, and was a perfect companion to Schwarzenegger's "The Last Stand," released about a month earlier. "The Last Stand" was the English-language debut of South Korean filmmaker Kim Jee-Woon, and it had a wonderful sense of humor and visuals that occasionally bordered on the kaleidoscopic. Taken together, they were an interesting double feature -- in "The Last Stand," Schwarzenegger made tireless jokes about how old he was, and in "Bullet to the Head," Stallone refused to acknowledge his age. The point is that both movies are better than "Escape Plan." The end.
4. Something's Going on With Vincent D'Onofrio
Something is going on with Vincent D'Onofrio, and it isn't good. The voice that he's doing in "Escape Plan," seems to lack any rhyme or reason. In fact, it's like he's doing an impression of Dan Aykroyd. It's almost worth the ticket price alone to watch this unfold.
5. Enough With New Orleans
I know that the tax incentives are pretty great but can we put an 18-month ban on Hollywood movies shooting in New Orleans? The whole "look" of the city is getting exhausting. I don't even have a craving for beignets and muffulettas anymore.
6. 50 Cent Plays a 'Tech Thug'
Just let that sink in for a minute. Also keep in mind that it was the second movie I had to watch in two days to feature a performance from 50 Cent.
7. The Super High-Tech Prison Is Ripped From 'Cabin in the Woods'
Remember at the end of "Cabin in the Woods" when all the monster pods came out and it was this crazy jigsaw puzzle of awesome? Well, that's kind of what this movie's prison, dubbed The Tomb, looks like. The armed guards even have to wear scary blank masks. The prison is supposed to look high-tech and cool but it really just feels like a rehashed design (only uglier).
8. Arnold Doesn't Show Up Until At Least 35 Minutes In
While the movie is being heavily promoted as this awesome team-up with Schwarzenegger and Stallone, King Arnold doesn't show up until at least 35 minutes in. Now, once they do get together, it is pretty awesome (even though Arnold now walks like Frankenstein's monster and you can only understand every third word that comes out of Stallone's mouth). Arnold is playing more of a supporting comedic role than anything else, which is actually quite welcome (he's a gifted, all too frequently overlooked comedic performer) and there's a moment towards the end of the movie involving Arnold that is so purely badass that the theater was hooting in appreciation. It was awesome.
9. Sam Neill Alert
You know who shows up at some point in "Escape Plan" and is a totally welcome surprise? Sam Neill! The gifted Irish actor from "The Piano" and "Jurassic Park"! And he looks so great! Here he plays a somewhat morally conflicted doctor in The Tomb.
10. The 'Big Reveal' of Where the Prison Is Is Pretty Effective
If I haven't gotten this point across yet, "Escape Plan" is a tough slog, full of leaden dialogue, two-dimensional characters and hackneyed direction (by the guy who made the pretty-good Stephen King adaptation "1408"). But there is a pretty cool moment when Stallone discovers where the prison is located and just how hopeless his situation is. It's sturdily effective (the friend sitting next to me let out an audible gasp and I'm pretty sure it wasn't ironic), but it also reminded me of how much better the prison (and prison break) sequence from "Face/Off" was. Man, that movie is great. "Escape Plan" could have learned a few more things from it.
EARLIER: A Brief, Mostly Intelligible Conversation Between Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger