October 19, 2013

Sit near the exit?

But only if you, unlike myself, have tired of seeing gruff, grizzled action heroes reveal their cuddly sides while they punch the crap out of each other.  Not I.  Not yet.  This is a fun film.  There are a few splashes of blood to brighten up the institutional gray-green of the sets of Escape Plan, but that isn’t a problem, for me at least.  Anyone familiar with my Ben Blackshaw series will understand I’m not squeamish.

Two Backs to the Wall are Better Than One


Sylvester Stallone brilliantly underplays Ray Breslin, a professional supermax prison evaluator who gets paid beaucoup bucks go undercover into prison populations to find the facilities’ security flaws and bust out.  The film first walks us through how one if these gigs is supposed to go, and it’s pretty cool.  Then Breslin gets the double-your-fee offer to test a crazy-secret prison where he won’t have access to his outside team, and they won’t even know where he is being held.  With red flags a-flying, in he goes.  Yes, it’s a set-up.  The new prison has been designed according to his own research, and Breslin is not supposed to see the light of day ever again.

Arnold Schwarzenegger plays Emil Rottmayer, uber-inmate who, over time, agrees to help Breslin break free.  It’s a good Arnold role, meaning that, even when his character is crawling through the pit of despair, there’s still a twinkle in his eye; he just loves a day on the set no matter what mayhem is in store in the script.  This guy is really happy when he is acting.

Rottmayer and Breslin must execute this plan under the watchful CCTV gaze of Warden Hobbes, a sadistic, twitchy control freak played by Jim Caviezel (Person of Interest, Angel Eyes) who always knows how to add a third dimension to a character if the writer forgets to add it in.  Hobbes’s hench-giant, Drake, is deftly rendered by Vinnie Jones, Great Britain’s go-to villainous lieutenant.  I cannot wait to see him play more sympathetic roles, which would be brilliant casting against type in my book.

As I mentioned, Breslin and Rottmayer have to set up many distractions and diversions to carry off the break-out, and that involves their hurting and maiming one another on a near-metronomic basis.  Of course, it’s all funny, good-natured pantomiming, with even the most heinous hurts immediately forgiven, vis a vis, The Wrestler.

Vincent D’Onofrio, 50 Cent, Amy Ryan, and Sam Neill are part of an amazing supporting cast, all of whom are lots of fun to watch, despite their punching well below their weight of talent in this gig.  Hey, everybody has mortgages, and what actor wouldn’t want to check the bucket-list box of working on a project with two of the world’s action movie greats.

Word to writers, watch out for plots that require too much exposition at the end for everything to make sense.  This high-concept script made plenty sense as it was, but the exposition was put in anyway, probably for a studio executive who missed a couple sessions of dailies.

Kudos to the production team for bucking international xenophobia and casting Faran Tahir as a sympathetic Muslim character.  There don’t seem to be too many of those in the media these days, and Tahir does a fantastic job in this film.

All in all, this movie is a very diverting ride. Sure value for money.  Think of it as an overdue visit with old, but still ambulatory, friends.

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