The efficacy of the escape plan at the heart of Escape Plan hinges on an important choice made by one of the supporting characters, a prison doctor played by Sam Neill. We get a scene of him late at night, sitting alone at his desk, throwing back a shot of whiskey, peering with tired and troubled eyes at one of your props: an open book. When he closes the book (having come, we assume, to a difficult compromise), we a cut to a close-up of the cover. The title of the tome he's been contemplating? Medical Ethics.
This says pretty much everything you need to know about this Stallone/Schwarzenegger prison-break shoot-em-up. It's simple. Simple to the point of being stupid. Case in point: 50 Cent plays a computer hacker.
But it's more than that. The one-liners are sub-puerile, the characters zero-dimensional, and the plot twists (identities revealed, traitors uncovered) feel like surprises the same way buying yourself a Christmas gift feels like a surprise; you may briefly forget that you ordered it, but when it arrives you know exactly what's in the box.
Yes, Alixandra: Escape Plan is a bad movie. But there's something endearing about its badness. Something refreshing about it, even. A self-awareness, maybe. A quality of nostalgia. An admirable competence in its deficiency.
I called it stupid, but that's not accurate. Any film brave enough to rest the framework of its story (all sorts of mumbo-jumbo about Stallone, an expert jail-breaker, being hired to test the security protocols of a brand-new state-of-the-art prison), and millions of dollars of explosions and helicopter stunts, on a simple prop like your Medical Ethics book is utterly convinced of its virtues.
Compare and contrast with the fifth Die Hard film, which came out earlier this year. The faux-Greengrassian shaky-cam madness and hyperactive editing style made it virtually unwatchable. Even Bruce Willis' natural charm was deadened by how seriously the film took itself. Like all the recent comic book adaptations that eschew the four-color pop-artistry that inspired them in favor of dreary false-profundity, it wanted to be something more than it was.
Escape Plan, though not quite a parody, is a bit more content to sit back and deliver on its easy promises. And, besides that vital book, your props play an important role throughout. Stallone, the master escapist, uses pens and eyeglasses and milk cartons to build all sorts of gadgets and increasingly goofy booby-traps. It seems almost like you guys shot the film chronologically, and, two-thirds of the way through, recognized the absurdity of it all and decided to abandon what little devotion to rationality remained.
And so, late in the film, as our heroes are (of course) racing against time, Arnie has one of his classic Arnie moments, which involves nothing more complicated than a look in his eyes and one of your props cradled in his arms. Seeing this scene with an audience fully invested in the nonsense made that five seconds almost worth the price of admission.
I guess that's the trick to enjoying Escape Plan: accept that it isn't interested in exploring ethics any further than showing it on the cover of a book, and just go along for the ride.