Ray Breslin (Sylvester Stallone) wrote the book on breaking out of prisons. That’s not a metaphor, as almost every character in this film has read the book, and keeps a copy of it nearby for dramatic effect.
Ray makes his living by stress-testing maximum security prisons. Disguised as a convict, Ray is inserted into prisons so that he can break his way out, and then identify the security flaws. He’s broken out of every prison he’s ever been inside, and he’s confident in his abilities.
When a secret black-ops prison needs testing, they come to Ray. And they come prepared to pay a large amount of money for his services, particularly if he overlooks normal security procedures. As you might imagine, it turns out that this prison is both more secure and more evil than other prisons, and now he has to break out for real.
I really like prison escape films, and I’m not sure why. Perhaps its the improvised nature of the escapes, using everyday things to overcome impossible restrictions. This film has that in spades – small pieces of metal used to break state-of-the-art security, secret codes and careful timing of the guards’ routines. Towards the end of the film, it devolves away from the MacGyver-ing into all-out action, which is less to my taste, but there’s nothing wrong with it.
Everyone in this film – with the exception of the soft-spoken villain, who is a different kind of stereotype – speaks almost entirely in gravelly one-liners. This is both fun, and shows the strength of the casting, as Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Vinnie Jones are all past masters of the art of growling something pithy.
There are a lot of artistic touches in this film, evidence that someone sat down and thought long and hard about the message. My favourite thing in Escape Plan is the heavy symbolism – the cowardly financier has OCD, continually washing his hands. The evil warden who keeps prisoners in glass cells has a collection of butterflies, fixed and dead behind glass cases. Do you get it? Do you understand? Escape Plan does not want you to miss any of the subtext.
Escape Plan is a well-meaning and desperately sincere action film. It has a moral message, commentary on current affairs, and everything else you need for a meaningful and intelligent film. Audiences were apathetic, but I wish you to know that that is unfair. This is not a subtle film, or even an elegant one. But it is fun, it’s wholesome, and it wants to be taken seriously. I have a lot of respect for that. Plus, as already mentioned, it is very entertaining, what with all the growling and the escaping. I may sound like I’m mocking the film, but I’d like to stress that this is entirely gentle, well-meaning mockery.