One of the better entries in the current cycle of old-guy action movies, Escape Plan stars Sylvester Stallone as a prison-break specialist who gets in over his head after agreeing to test a high-tech overseas black site designed according to his own escape-proofing principles. Essentially a feature-length version of the slammer scenes in Face/Off, the movie is a straightforward prison-break flick dressed up with sci-fi production design—vertically stacked glass cells, guards in black facemasks—and pseudo-topical references to penal privatization, CIA contractors, and the banking industry.
Immediately realizing that’s he’s fallen into a trap, Stallone enlists the help of an Austrian detainee (Arnold Schwarzenegger) in hatching an escape plan. Though the Stallone-Schwarzenegger team-up might suggest action-star nostalgia, the movie is refreshingly free of references, fan service, or retirement jokes. Subverting his usual strongman image, Schwarzenegger—gray-haired, bearded, and noticeably paunchy—plays his character as a mischief-maker who delights in pissing off his fellow inmates and wasting the warden’s time. (One of his improvised diversions—a delirious religious sermon delivered in German—marks the first time that Schwarzenegger has spoken his native language onscreen.) Stallone, on the other hand, sticks to his current surly loner screen persona, acting as the straight man to Schwarzenegger’s antiauthoritarian weirdo.
Though its final act is somewhat hampered by Mikael Håfström’s lack of chops when directing action scenes, Escape Plan chugs along on the strength of Stallone and Schwarzenegger’s rapport (the latter hasn’t been this good—or funny—since the 1990s) and the kind of twisty, hold-off-the-reveal plotting that’s integral to the genre. The supporting cast—which includes Sam Neill, Vinnie Jones, Vincent D’Onofrio, and Jim Caviezel—is tasked with nothing more than keeping things interesting while the leads aren’t onscreen, and largely succeed.
By playing to Stallone and Schwarzenegger’s current strengths rather than their recognizability, the movie ends up being a more effective throwback to its stars’ glory days than more self-conscious efforts like The Last Stand or The Expendables 2. Though Schwarzenegger is no longer credible as a one-man army, he remains a strangely compelling comic presence whose one-liners are made all the more memorable by his off-rhythm delivery. For his part, Stallone—who is beefier now than he was in his prime—dials down the vanity and self-seriousness that’s marked a lot of his recent work. Though this movie can’t match the formal qualities that made the pair’s most iconic films work, it goes a long way toward recapturing their sense of cheesy fun.