Sly and Arnie prison flick is old-fashioned bone-headed fun

The last time we saw Sylvester Stallone in jail was 1989 with the prison drama Lock Up . His Expendables co-star Arnold Schwarzenegger has somehow gone his whole career without making a prison action film. In theory Escape Plan should offer fans of the two superstars the best of both worlds — muscle-bound tag-team prison action.

Amazingly it mostly does. Escape Plan is great weird fun the kind of movie Cannon Films pumped out in droves back in the ’80s. It touches that uniquely male sexually ambiguous and primordial part of the brain that loves sweaty brawny men guns and dick jokes. It won’t come as any surprise that a lot of it doesn’t work — Stallone seems half-awake and is distractingly terrible at times and the truncated ending piles on one bullshit detail after another. Schwarzenegger’s gonzo tossed-off performance however is riveting. I may have just blown any credibility I have but his pop-will-eat-itself presence is a blast. He spouts crazy gibberish in German and tells Stallone he “hits like a vegetarian.” It’s great.

Breslin (Stallone) has a talent for breaking out of prisons. He runs a company that specializes in testing prison security. He enters as a convict spectacularly escapes and gets paid for it. When the film opens he busts out of a maximum-security jail using a combination of movie luck hilarious derring-do car explosions and costumes. He’s supported by a tech wizard (an innocuous 50 Cent) a slimy accountant (Vincent D’Onofrio) and the movie’s only token female character played by Amy Ryan. (Neither I nor the movie have any idea what she does.)

The team is offered a gig they can’t refuse: to break out of a Gitmo-inspired super-prison that houses the world’s most awful and ugly villains. Breslin agrees and soon finds himself drugged and on his way to no-man’s-land. The prison looks a lot like the one in Face Off a cold and steely combination somewhere between a high school gym and a packing warehouse. It’s impenetrable overseen by a mincing psychotic warden named Hobbes (Jim Caviezel relishing every goofball moment) who has a taste for torture and other draconian methods. The prison guards (led by Vinnie Jones) all look like Snake Eyes from G.I. Joe . Breslin quickly realizes he’s been set up — someone intends for him to serve a full life sentence.

He befriends Rottmayer (Schwarzenegger) an inmate who’s equal parts brain and brawn. The two new pals plan their escape. There are brawls tricks homemade gadgets and lots of tough guy banter. There’s a few supporting characters to serve as cannon fodder but it’s really Sly and Arnie’s show. The two have an easy familiarity with each other and the film is wise in occasionally letting the two hang out and shoot the shit.

Director Mikael Håfström — who has made a bunch of shit like The Rite 1408 and Derailed (those forgettable Netflix entries you watch when you’re stuck home with the flu) — leads the film with an invisible hand. Escape Plan is the kind of bare-bones action flick that speaks for itself a threadbare plot punctuated by fist fights and dumb jokes. It comes dangerously close to being total complete garbage with a lazy third act that ties together a bunch of plot threads that nobody cares about. The movie deserves more one-liners and explosions not handshakes and secret identities.

There are moments when Escape Plan seems to aspire to something halfway intelligent by offering a commentary on American policy. The prison is clearly a Gitmo-like place where people disappear without due process and the right to a fair trial and there’s even a vicious scene of waterboarding. Any meaning however is ambiguous half-cocked and therefore pointless. It’s just as well — we want to see Stallone and Schwarzenegger do what they do best and that’s kick ass.