By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Geriaction, as it’s been dubbed in Hollywood, is the subgenre featuring aging action stars in lead roles.
A textbook example is Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger cast as muscle-bound buddies in a prison-based thriller, putting them squarely on the hill without being over it.
And it turns out that there’s considerable entertainment value in them thar hills.
Iconic action stars Stallone and Schwarzenegger, both on the comeback trail, each fronted thrillers earlier this year, with The Governator faring better in The Last Stand than the Italian Stallion did in the objectionable Bullet to the Head.
Now, in the escapist prison-break thriller Escape Plan, they team up as tough guys planning to break out of prison.
And, y’know what? This silly but diverting movie is fun!
Stallone is structural engineer Ray Breslin, the world’s foremost authority on structural security and the head of a security consultancy firm who accepts a challenging assignment from the CIA: to break out of the world’s most high-tech, top-secret, maximum-security prison.
It becomes not just lucrative but necessary when he is framed and incarcerated in “The Tomb” (the film’s original title), from which he must escape (with revenge against the person responsible for his plight providing him with more than enough motivation) with the help of cellmate Swan Rottmayer, played by Schwarzenegger, and the survival skills Breslin developed while testing supposedly escape-proof facilities.
Jim Caviezel provides an effective villain in the vicious warden, Willard Hobbes, the film’s major antagonist, while Amy Ryan, Vincent D’Onofrio, and Curtis ‘50 Cent’ Jackson lend support as Breslin’s colleagues.
Swedish director Mikael Hafstrom (1408, The Rite, Shanghai) wisely keeps the generic fisticuffs to a minimum (at least until the third act), and provides plenty of plot, giving the film more of a cerebral pulse than we’ve come to expect in action thrillers, thus keeping things narratively interesting rather than having the audience merely marking time until the next physical confrontation.
That said, the intricate, convoluted screenplay by Miles Chapman and Jason Keller still makes sure to include an altercation, however sincere or necessary, between the two stars so their respective fan bases, thus satiated, can relax and go back to the rest of the moderately engaging plot.
Schwarzenegger, having appeared briefly in the Stallone-fronted Expendables movies, gives the more lively and enjoyable performance here: it’s almost as if Stallone realizes that he’s being upstaged by the sidekick role and has settled in to play laconic straight man to Arnold’s eccentric second banana.
Whatever it is, their screen personas mesh effectively.
So we’ll break out of 2½ stars out of 4 for the entertaining behind-bars buddy flick Escape Plan, as old dogs Stallone and Schwarzenegger show off a few new tricks.