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One of the world's foremost authorities on structural security agrees to take on one last job: breaking out of an ultra-secret, high-tech facility called ‘The Tomb.’ Deceived and wrongly imprisoned, Ray Breslin (Sylvester Stallone) must recruit fellow inmate Emil Rottmayer (Arnold Schwarzenegger) to help devise a daring, nearly impossible plan to escape from the most protected and fortified prison ever built. (From Summit’s official synopsis)

 Escape Plan
The action heroes of the ‘80s continue crawling their way back into the zeitgeist. Their efforts have finally begun to move past the desperation phase and into a nice warm place between the mainstream posperity and straight-to-video obscurity. The Expendables movies continue to make money on a brand name, but most of the movies starring these former greats are produced on significantly lower budgets to considerably lower profits. At the risk of sounding dismissive, this is the place I’d prefer see these guys and films like The Last Stand and Bullet to the Head are much closer to proper extensions of their original output than either of the Expendables movies, regardless of actual quality. Commando and Rambo III were B-movies that made A-money, because the market craved them. The market has changed and now only supports a nostalgia niche. And that’s actually kind of awesome. 2013’s rush of B-action hero throwbacks was closed out by Mikael Håfström’s Escape Plan. Like all the other films in the collection, it didn’t set the world on fire with critical acclaim or box office success, but it didn’t entirely fail and kept the likes of Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Swarzenegger in the public eye for another month.

Håfström isn’t a foreign director trying to get a foothold in the Hollywood market, like The Last Stand’s Kim Jee-woon, nor is he a fading star himself, like Bullet to the Head’s Walter Hill – he’s just a working director that knows what he’s doing. His biggest hit was a stylish Stephen King adaptation called 1408. Following that, he directed an international cast for Shanghai, a noir thriller that didn’t get a major release, and The Rite, a quickly forgotten possessed-priest thriller starring Anthony Hopkins. For his part, he appears to have been a fine choice for the material. He shoots using flowy camerawork and crisp editing, both of which establish a solid visual storytelling practice. He works best when he’s visually establishing Stallone’s planning process minus the benefit of a narrative explanation (though, follow-up sequences tend to unnecessarily verify things). Unfortunately, this workman-like approach is part of the film’s major problem – it feels entirely generic. There’s nothing here to visually set the film apart from its underwhelming narrative or the glacial momentum Håfström’s rational direction creates.

 Escape Plan
The screenplay, by Miles Chapman and Jason Keller, takes inspiration from obvious sources, like John Flynn’s Lock Up (also starring Stallone), Don Siegel’s Escape From Alcatraz, and even John Sturges’ proto-escape classic The Great Escape, but owes even more to the middle section of John Woo’s Face/Off and Stuart Gordon’s underappreciated sci-fi prison opus, Fortress. Of course, every time there’s a callback to a different prison-break movie/TV show, the audience only reminded that they aren’t watching that movie/TV show instead. Nothing in Escape Plan offers anything new to the lexicon, not even the intricacies of the super prison itself. It might not have mattered if the stolen story elements were backed by clever dialogue (the last lines are ‘Why don’t you and me have a really special dinner?,’ ‘Oh, I’ll cook…,’ ‘Haven’t I suffered enough?’) or unexpected plot twists (we are given so much information that it’s basically impossible to be surprised by the narrative turns).

The cast is, naturally, the bigger pull than the director or concept and including the usual STV genre mainstays, like Curtis ‘50 Cent’ Jackson and Vinnie ‘Ex Football Thug’ Jones, and a fair number of established, award-friendly character types slumming their way through supporting roles, like Vincent D'Onofrio, Amy Ryan, Jim Caviezel, and Sam Neill. D’Onofrio and Ryan are completely wasted as the people who sit idly and worry about Stallone. Their scenes take us out of the prison and place us back in the real world, bringing the already languid pace to a complete halt. Caviezel and Jackson are as boring as they always are, even cast against type, while Neill is typically charming in the underdeveloped role of the prison’s doctor (in the film’s worst moment, Stallone reminds Neill to ‘remember his oath’ before cutting to a shot of Neill literally reading the Hippocratic Oath from a medical textbook). Surprisingly enough, though, Schwarzenegger’s performance is probably the film’s most endearing aspect. His character isn’t given many shades of personality, but he consistently lands his funny lines with a comedic grace I frankly didn’t know he had in him. The bit where he feigns insanity to buy a hiding Stallone some time is probably the closest Arnie will get to an ‘Oscar moment.’ Stallone himself is fine, but is definitely coasting on his faded celebrity.

 Escape Plan

Video


Escape Plan was shot using Arri Alexa digital HD cameras and is presented here in 1080p, 2.40:1 video. For the most part, it looks like it could’ve been shot on 35mm – details are sharp and natural without being overly clean or particularly digital-looking. Håfström and cinematographer Brendan Galvin alternate between deep-set, wide-angle images that set their stages and incredibly tight close-ups that turn backdrops as blurry swaths. The closer textures are very impressive, without any notable sharpening effects, and the purposefully blurry stuff is still well-cut in terms of element separation. The outer world’s colour palette is limited and stylized without appearing unnaturally graded. Basically, a given environment’s inherent hues are homogenized, so that most skin tones, clothing colours, structural palettes, et cetera, appear generally alike. By the time Stallone lands in the super prison, the colours are largely limited to steely blues and greens, warm flesh, and red and yellow highlights. Of these, only the reds bleed out of their designated shapes unintentionally. The film has a steady sheen of digital grain throughout, but only a handful of the darkest images appear particularly noisy. The white levels are a bit over-exposed and ‘bloomy,’ while blacks are deep without risking finer texture.

Note: All of the deleted footage and footage included with the EPK extras is framed at an open matte 1.78:1 and looks a lot better than the cramped 2.40:1.

 Escape Plan

Audio


This Blu-ray comes fitted with a DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 soundtrack. Despite the genre designation, Escape Plan is really more dialogue-driven than action-driven, so there isn’t exactly a constant stream of aggressive, multi-directional audio. It’s more of a study in atmospherics. The sounds of a ‘standard issue’ prison at the beginning of the film are organic and largely natural. The sound designers don’t spend too much time over-saturating the ambient environment with more than basic footsteps and clanging metal doors. This is contrasted by the super prison environment, which is generally more sinister and daunting. The lockdown procedures are louder with more rear channel echo and the fistfights include more bass-influenced blows. There are also more excuses for explosive gunshots and metal-shredding bullet effects. Alex Heffes’ musical score is standard issue sci-fi action stuff, though it is more symphonic than expected. Based on the trailers, I had assumed the film would take a more techno-inspired route or at least feature more percussion elements. The score is mixed pretty low on the track, but never low enough to disappear entirely during the more actiony moments.

 Escape Plan

Extras


The extras include:
  • Commentary with Håfström and co-writer Miles Chapman – This is a brutally uninteresting, awkward ‘Skyped’ group commentary. Håfström spends most of his time either describing the on-screen action, assuring us that the cast members liked each other, or asking Chapman questions about the script. His accent is quite charming, but he’s only particularly valuable for his habit of describing/recalling locations. Chapman, who seems a bit more prepared for the process, has a curious habit of pointing out his own script’s shortcomings while defending them against allegations that haven’t been vocalized. I’m not sure he even realizes he’s doing this.
  • Executing the Plan: The Making of Escape Plan (20:20, HD) – A fluffy EPK made up of footage from the film, interviews with the major cast and crew, and raw behind-the-scenes footage.
  • Maximum Security: The Real-Life Tomb (22:00, HD) – A brief breakdown of the reality of a maximum security prison, including interviews with a series of experts, as well as illustrations/photographs/video footage from facilities throughout history.
  • Clash of the Titans (15:30, HD) – A look at the re-teaming of Stallone and Schwarzenegger, following the two Expendables movies.
  • 11 deleted/extended scenes (8:10, HD)
  • Trailers


 Escape Plan

Overall


There is always room for another movie or TV episode about a prison break, but it’s an awfully busy field. It takes something special to set the next prison break movie/TV episode apart. Escape Plan doesn’t offer anything special to set itself apart. It’s about as mediocre as a film can be without being offensive. The only people I can really recommend it to are diehard Arnold Schwarzenegger fans, who do have a very charming performance to look forward to. Lionsgate’s Blu-ray looks and sounds typically sharp. The extras are pretty fluffy, though.

 Escape Plan
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray and have been resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking the individual images, but due to .jpg compression, they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.


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