Once fierce box office rivals, the Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger are looking as stacked as ever as they team up for their second film in as many years, Mikael Håfström’s Escape Plan (2013). A retro-actioner of the same build as their eighties hits, this is a chance to relive the naff put-downs, demented plotting and low grade comedy-thrills which dominated the scene back then. Although it cannot hold a dumbbell to the memorialised camp of Rambo and Predator, it is a welcome rejoinder to the career-ending catastrophe that could have been The Expendables. For these two, the plot is appropriately ridiculous.
Stallone plays Ray Breslin, a man whose job it is to escape from prisons. His prowess is such that he is approached with an off-the-books assignment to test a new private facility housing the world’s most dangerous criminals. Once there, he is double-crossed and forced to link up with fellow inmate, criminal mastermind Emil Rottmayer (Schwarzenegger). The two of them then hatch a plan to escape under the watchful eye of the sadistic prison warden (Jim Caviezel). What follows makes Prison Break look like Bresson’s A Man Escaped (1965). Stallone’s stuffed-up tough guy routine has never been one to hold the screen on its own, and he needs all the help he can get in the early expositional scenes.
It’s only when Arnie makes his entrance however, with a new goatee but all those old ticks and grins, that things get as fun as they should do. Arnie really hasn’t been served this well on-screen since James Cameron’s True Lies (1994): he’s given all the best one-liners (“You hit like a vegetarian,” is a particular winner), and in the final climactic sequence he also gets to go full Commando, wielding an unreasonably oversized machine gun from a helicopter. Håfström, mostly known for horror films, has been given a very specific objective here: to put Stallone and Arnie together and let the mayhem commence.
Although the action scenes are tempered with a 12A certificate in mind, this is not to the allay of our enjoyment or the chemistry between the two leads. Escape Plan’s faults are obvious and hardly worth belabouring, but its successes are harder earned and carried off with a nostalgic, if not quite guilt-free, charm. Let’s hope for more of the same when the inevitable The Expendables 3 rumbles into town.