“You don’t look that smart,” Arnold Schwarzenegger said to Sylvester Stallone, on hearing a lot of arcane mathematics spouting from his mouth that will help them both escape from the most secure prison in the world.
“You don’t either,” Sly said to Ah-nuld.
Actually, they’re both pretty smart in their mid-60s, and the enjoyable “Escape Plan” proves it.
What you have to understand is that off screen Arnold needs Sly a lot more than Sly needs Arnold. Whatever people felt about Sly 30 years ago, they still do, long after the ’80s heyday of the steroid monster action movie was over. Nothing in those intervening years was remotely controversial about Stallone. He’s now a lovable lunkhead relic from the era.
Ahnuld? Not so much. All those years as the California governator and the sire of illegitimate children with the family housekeeper while his popular TV newswoman wife Maria Shriver was otherwise occupied put him a funkier category than the steroid musclehead everyone once knew and loved.
Arnold needed rehabilitation. So here comes Sly and his “Expendables” franchise. he has been so successful at it that he now seems to be doing social work among sexagenarians in need of muscle and action cred back at the old megaplex. (Soon to be had is the result of Sly talking “Raging Bull” star Robert DeNiro back into his old cup and jockstrap for some rounds inside the ring in “Grudge Match.”)
Lest anyone doubt that advancing age is one of the richest jokes of all for those who can maintain the proper attitude should carefully consider the current careers of Sly, Arnold and, I suppose, DeNiro now, too.
So, as the old MGM publicists might have said, Arnold’s back and Sly’s got him. It’s their first movie as co-stars.
Stallone still can’t act his way out of a paper bag, which makes it ironic, of course, that in “Escape Plan” he plays the Houdini of the world’s most secure prisons, a maximum security guru who is routinely hired by prison systems all over the world to break out of their joints and expose their weaknesses.
Please believe me when I tell you that Arnold does some of the most intense acting I’ve ever seen the boy do in “Escape Plan” – in one unprecedented scene, in his original language, German.
So here, no kidding, is a movie where, of the two of them, Arnold displays the acting chops. He does a bit of mild action work but, as in the latter days of John Wayne, you can usually tell when a stunt double was used. You do have to remember that old chemically puffed up Arnold once had open-heart surgery which, no doubt, cut down a wee bit on his desire to mix it up with musclebound stuntmen.
Sly, with his ramrod straight posture and wrestler’s chest and biceps, is still ready for anything.
The surprise in “Escape Plan” – to the degree there is one – is that plot ingenuity is what makes it as entertaining as it is.
It’s a good fantasy for the boys. In the movie’s first 15 minutes, we see Sly break out of major lockdown with just a few wads of toilet paper and an empty milk carton.
Arnold shows up a half hour into the movie, when Sly is moved into the toughest prison on the planet, a private facility where people throw the least desirable miscreants in the known world.
OK, smart aleck, says the CIA lady who hires Sly, let’s see you break out of that one. And here’s $5 million if you can.
That’s where he runs into Arnold, the fiercest of the prison’s inmates. Ten minutes after they meet, they’re duking it out.
The cast is a surprisingly strong one. The ultimate lockdown is run by Jim Caviezel, doing his best bad guy work with his usual sinister whisper. Stallone’s business partner is played by Vincent D’Onofrio, and the prison doctor is played by Sam Neill.
Arnold’s mild expressed surprise at the smarts of his new fellow inmate Sly will, no doubt, be shared by some of “Escape Plan’s” audience – all of whom know what they’re getting, but maybe not with so much ingenious seasoning.
And yes, at the end, there’s plenty of room for “Escape Plan 2.”
I’m wishing the old boys luck, I don’t know about you.