You probably know what you're getting into with a movie starring Sylvester Stallone as a prison-break specialist, right? It's basically the same deal as a Sylvester Stallone mountain-climbing movie, or a Sylvester Stallone bomb-squad thriller. In this variation, Stallone would run afoul of an evil warden who tries to destroy him by trapping him in an inescapable prison. And that is basically the plot of Escape Plan. The prison is supposedly a secret CIA site where the baddest of the bad guys are stashed away from pesky problems like, oh, say, "the legal system," or "rights." And Stallone's nemesis is played by Jim Caviezel as a purring control freak of a warden. That, really, should be just about that.
Except Escape Plan is actually somehow a lot of fun. Don't get me wrong; it's dumb fun, and sometimes it's a lot more dumb than fun, but on the whole, it's a surprisingly good time. Caviezel, for example, is a lot of fun to watch, taking his line readings to Walken-esque extremes. Vincent D'Onofrio seems to be stuck in twitchy mode as Stallone's germ-phobic partner in the prison-break business, and Stallone's other co-workers, played by a wasted Amy Ryan and a laughably bad Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson hiding behind a pair of glasses, are fairly forgettable.
But the best part of Escape Plan is undoubtedly Arnold Schwarzenegger as a mysterious prisoner in the un-break-out-able jail. In the few movies released since Schwarzenegger's return to acting, he hasn't seemed entirely sure-footed, either taking himself too seriously or forgetting how to play himself on screen. Escape Plan is the first movie where he's finally found his old rhythm. Here, he's the comic relief, the mouthy can-you-believe-this-shit sidekick, and he plays it like a hammy child in a school play. He's not convincing as an intelligent man of mystery, but he also knows we're not going to see this movie because we want to see something convincing. So instead, he plays it over-the-top, and even though he's a lot less muscular than the Arnold we remember, and though his hair is graying, you can't help but be swept up in the fun he's having.
You kind of wish, in fact, that Schwarzenegger's sense of frivolity would rub off onto Stallone. Just as in the Expendables franchise and Bullet to the Head, late-stage Stallone is dense and rugged and barely lifelike. With a slightly more self-aware script and a more nimble protagonist—say, Bruce Willis or The Rock—Escape Plan could have maybe risen to true trash-cinema greatness, alongside Face/Off and Con Air and The Rundown. But because Stallone can't seem to learn any new tricks, we'll just have to make do with a much-better-than-average release from the 90s Action Hero Old Folk's Home.