Just as we might take a strange fascination in the charming bathtub-side paintings of former president George Bush, we have a particular and renewed interest in the special subspecies of “action flick acting” by our state’s former fearless leader, Governator Arnold Schwarzenegger. On some levels, it may still be hard to believe he was a highly paid actor or a head of state, but that’s part of the fun in keeping tabs on the man, who teams up with another muscle-bound, English challenged screen hero, Sylvester Stallone, in Escape Plan, a middling but oddly entertaining prison flick.
Rest assured; Arnold is not lapsing into girly man roles, at least this time out. He plays a tough guy in a bleak situation, a prisoner in a higher-than-high security escape-proof dungeon for criminals in need of being “disappeared.” At the center of the plot is Stallone’s character, whose job it is to test the security of prisons by breaking out of them. Asking us to accept Stallone as an intelligent mastermind, rather than just a determined lunkhead, strains credulity and inspires muffled laughter, even amongst the film’s creators. There is a funny scene in which Stallone spews some detailed scientific data at the prison table, and Schwarzenegger mugs “you don’t look that smart.” Stallone’s retort: “You don’t, either.” True, that.
In terms of its place in the genre of prison escape cinema, Escape Plan isn’t exactly on par with Robert Bresson’s ascetic masterpiece A Man Escaped, and yet it does appeal by virtue of its attention to the necessarily minute details. Beyond such minutiae intrigue, the film supplies us with a few of those tasty, Austrian-accented Arnold-ian zingers we so love to hear, as when he tells Sly “you fight like a vegetarian” or kisses off foes in a ludicrous shootout finale “have a lovely, day, assholes.” Good to have him not mincing words amongst the citizenry and on the big screen again.