To say that I went to see Escape Plan with low expectations would be an understatement. It's a vehicle for Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Stallone had last appeared in Bullet to the Head, which I thought was a dud, despite being directed by Walter Hill. Schwarzenegger had been in The Last Stand, which was a surprisingly crisp and engaging action picture. Escape Plan, however, looked like a very conventional prison movie.
But my preconceptions were almost immediately turned upside down. I thought Stallone played a con who had a knack for breaking out of detention. That's what you're supposed to think, for about ten minutes, and then the films moves in a much more interesting direction.
This is a difficult movie to discuss without giving the fun away. Besides the unexpected set up, it features two major twists. One of these I spotted immediately, the other one totally sandbagged me.
It's a clever, inventive film — imaginative and well constructed. In fact it looks like it was originally a rather more thoughtful story which was rewritten for the high octane action associated with its two heavily muscled stars. So we end up with a movie with lots of swearing, fist fighting and weaponry — Arnold Schwarzenegger rips a .50 calibre machine gun from its helicopter mount and fires it from the hip. Naturally.
But the clever and imaginative movie is still in there.
The original story and screenplay for Escape Plan is by Miles Chapman, who mostly has TV writing credits (on Cybergeddon) and it was rewritten by Jason Keller (Mirror Mirror and Machine Gun Preacher).
It's a superior popcorn movie, unexpectedly intelligent when it isn't busy hitting you on the head with a monkey wrench, and a surprising amount of fun. It also has a superior supporting cast, including Sam Neill.
Oh yes, and Arnold's goatee is a good look.
(Image credits: all the posters are from the laudable Ace Show Biz site.Thanks, chaps.)