Escape Plan (2013)

EscapePlanby Brad Nelson   3/13/14
This is a decent testosterone-flick for the first three-fifths of it. There is an actual plot that builds, makes sense, and holds dramatic interest. There are real characters (more or less…this is Schwarzenegger and Stallone we’re talking about).

But then it stops being smart. Lots of stuff happens in the latter parts of the film that make little sense. I had to stop the movie several times just to sort things out with my brother (who was watching it with me). It was usually a matter of, “How could have known that was going to happen?” Or something such as that. A movie that was in the beginning coherent lost much of that in the last two-fifths.

The gist of the movie is that Sylvester Stallone plays a specialist at breaking out of prisons. Much like hackers who are often pressed into service to uncover security issues with corporate computer systems, Stallone has made it his profession to find weaknesses in prisons. He routinely has himself tossed into various prisons (with no one but the warden knowing he’s not a con) and tries to escape. He’s even written a “How To” book on the subject of prison security. And by being incognito when on the job, he faces all the regular hazards of actual prison life including the burly guards who don’t know to take it easy on him.

The film starts off with Stallone on the job in just such a situation. After the successful conclusion of this job, some big-wigs offer him a multi-million-dollar contract (way more than his usual asking price) if he will try to crack the latest maximum-security prison that has been built to hold the worse of the worst…a prison that is already in use and full of hardcore scum from all corners of the globe.

Okay, so far, so good. Things eventually go not quite as expected (as you would expect). There is a bit of skullduggery and double-cross involved. I won’t spoil the plot for you with too many details. But Stallone eventually finds himself in this ultra-maximum-security prison facing an even tougher circumstance than usual. And there he finds Schwarzenegger already there as an inmate. And circumstances conspire in which they need to help each other break out of this unbreakable prison.

Sam Neill plays the sympathetic prison doctor. Too bad his role is peripheral and not central. Jim Caviezel scowls his way through the role of warden of this new escape-proof prison. I’m not a big Jim Caviezel plan. And the reason why is that I’ve seen plastic give a more evocative performance. But he can give you a steely stare. And if giving steely stares is where it’s at, Caviezel has that going for him. (I kept envisioning Harvey Keitel in the role. This movie needed an insertion of a little personality and character.)

Oh, and along the way — surprise! — you meet the “good Muslim.” Again, I won’t give away any crucial plot details. But this PC aspect is a bit obnoxious, although the other side of this coin is the movie does portray an awful lot of Muslims in this “worst of the worst” prison.

Amy Ryan plays one of Stallone’s business partners and, by Caviezel standards, she is quite good. Which is to say, you wished they would have cast someone who could have brought a little life to the character, although her role is small and fairly insignificant.

That really says it all about this movie. There is a general framework there of a movie that is quite decent enough. But plot and logic points in the end degrade it to just another mindless Stallone/Schwarzenegger action flick…at least the kind that is typical now in their later years.

They needed to pump a little life (if not logic) into this movie. It’s even bereft of the usual Schwarzeneggarian lines such as “I’ll be back.” I had to literally insert them myself while watching this. So if you like to “play at home,” there’s always that. I had a few funny ones, if I do say so myself.

Stallone has little to offer as well in terms of “catch lines.” But he does do a reasonable job of acting. This is much more of a Stallone movie than a buddy-buddy movie. Arnold is definitely the junior partner and sleep-walks through much of this movie, even by Arnold’s standards.

And you’d expect more futuristic hi-tech wizardry from the world’s most escape-proof prison. But the they don’t even bother to use any kind of existing snooping technology to listen in on conversations prisoners are having with each other in the common area as they plot escapes and other stuff from just a few yards away. As I said, much of this movie makes little sense. Thinking is definitely optional. And aside from the generally blah actors, there isn’t much drama regarding being in the world’s most escape-proof prison with the worst of the worst. You get a few predictable fist fights, and that’s about it. Consider the dark and foreboding atmosphere created in Escape from New York. Anything like that is missing in this one.

But I will say that the movie had me mostly on its side until it finally just collapsed under the weight of its un-imagination. Again, I’m sure they paid these two major stars millions to appear in this movie. But they couldn’t spare an extra hundred dollars for a decent screenwriter? Still, if you can find a friend who likes watching these kinds of movies — both for their own merit and just to make a little fun of them — then you could find worse ways to kill a rainy evening.

I’ll be back. With another movie review, eventually. But that’s all I want to say about this one. • (2208 views)

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Brad Nelson

About Brad Nelson

I like books, nature, politics, old movies, Ronald Reagan (you get sort of a three-fer with that one), and the founding ideals of this country. We are the Shining City on the Hill — or ought to be. However, our land has been poisoned by Utopian aspirations and feel-good bromides. Both have replaced wisdom and facts.
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21 Responses to Escape Plan (2013)

  1. Timothy Lane says:

    It sounds like you may have needed a standard SF fan concept, “the idiot plot”, which I probably don’t need to explain. You no doubt will be needing it in the future.

    A similar concept — escape from prison as an intellectual challenge — is the basis for one of Jacques Futrelle’s “Thinking Machine” stories (which I mentioned in my review of The Other Side of the Night). The story may have been inspired by Harry Houdini’s exploits, which are said to include a similar challenge. Another interesting fictional jailbreak (based on an actual occurrence) is the escape of the Duke of Beaufort from Vincennes prison, which is covered over several chapters of Twenty Years After, Dumas’s first sequel to The Three Musketeers. We had the story as a single item in one of my high school French readers, and I later recognized some incidents when I read the book on a Worldcon trip in 1998. (We have the Oxford University editions of The Count of Monte Cristo and all 5 Musketeers books, and I read them on various such trips.)

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      It sounds like you may have needed a standard SF fan concept, “the idiot plot”

      I think the movie hovered there for a while at least on “the interesting plot.” The first idiot point was why there should be a private (not governmental) prison to house the worst of the worst. How do you make a profit at that? Why would a government pay a corporation millions of dollars to incarcerate the worst of the worst. Wouldn’t they just eliminate them?

      I overlooked that at the start, although I did mention it to my brother. The problem is, even though one can, and should, suspend disbelieve (after all, this is just a movie), there’s a price to pay for doing so, particularly if you have to do so repeatedly.

      And you pay this price by the end of this movie in a near total disconnect from the plot and characters. The movie offers a rushed and convoluted explanation at the end for why what happened, happened. But at that point, my movie attention had already glossed over. They never do credibly explain, for example, (and this is a small spoiler alert, but it really plays no part in the enjoyment of this movie, such as it can be enjoyed) why Stallone’s business partner (not the chick, some other guy…the guy who plays Edgar in “Men in Black”) screws him over.

      I guess I should start a new rating system. I think if you were high on marijuana, all of this would make sense and even be frightfully entertaining. So I could start the one-to-five toke rating system…at least for these kinds of movies. I would say this is a two-toke movie. The movie is nearly good enough on its own to stand, but you need to be just a bit out of your mind to smooth over the rough parts.

      • Timothy Lane says:

        Suspension of disbelief requires addressing in a plausible manner serious questions. An interesting example can be found in the novel Welcome to Mars by James Blish — about a high-school student who makes a spaceship out of a packing crate (needless to say, the chap’s brilliant) and goes to Mars in it. Blish makes it work.

  2. Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

    “Jacques Futrelle’s “Thinking Machine” stories”

    While I enjoyed Futrelle’s “Thinking Machine” stories, I also liked R. Austin Freeman’s “Dr. Thorndyke Mysteries”. I would also recommend R.S. Fletcher for anyone who enjoys mystery period pieces.

    These are stories one can breeze through without cracking one’s head. Just the thing when tired or looking for a pleasant distraction.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      Mr. Kung, the current movie we are screening here at the office (yes, sometimes we do work as well) is “Captain Phillips.” It’s that movie about the “sectarian yutes practicing alternative revenue enhancement schemes,” or what you or I know as Muslim Pirates in Somali. (From this movie, you have no idea they are Muslim pirates.)

      And it’s been quite a long time since I’ve yelled at the screen like this. I have to admit, both me and my brother were incredulous that on a multi-ten-million dollar supertanker carrying multi-ten-millions of dollars of cargo that not one person on the ship is carrying a gun. One simple sniper rifle could have avoided that whole incident. But no one is carrying a gun. Not even a small sidearm. Has the world gone mad? I don’t get that.

      In some ways I’ve already disengaged from this movie. It’s the principle of “If people are this stupid, let them suffer.” If a shipping line can’t bother even with the most minimal security, what the hell are they doing running ships close to shore in a known area where sectarian youths engaging in alternative revenue enhancement schemes are operating?

      And then I read a few reviews at IMDB.com. One emasculated fellow said that he and his girlfriend were nearly brought to tears at the penultimate moment when the sectarian yutes practicing alternative revenue enhancement schemes were dispatched. They said they watched in horror as the rest of the theatre audience cheered. (At least the majority of the people weren’t total eunuchs.)

      Anyway, these are my impressions of that movie about 45 minutes into it. And the cowardice shown on board by the union workers. Oh, god, at least my movie sensibilities were somewhat appeased when the movie makers took a shot at these cowardly union workers. There were so many ways that a group of men (real men) could have repelled the boarders. They could have thrown barrels on them. Hell, as my brother said, they could have simply yanked the boarding ladder out of their hands after they had latched it onto the side of the ship. Two strong men could have easily done so. My own scheme was to load the water cannons with something a little more effective, such as fuel oil. Or, hell, they could have sharpened some pointed sticks and thrown that at the boat below. They had quite a height advantage.

      I was just going out of my mind in amazement at the stupidity of the shipping line and those on board. Yes, the captain himself did take a few measures, but nothing that was in the least effective…at least at this point in the movie.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      Aside from Sherlock Holmes, I would consider Dr. Thorndyke the best from that period. In particular, one might notice that Freeman in effect invented (in “The Singing Bone”) the inverted mystery, which was so effectively used by Columbo. Perhaps my favorite Thorndyke mystery would be Mr. Pottermack’s Oversight.

  3. Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

    “sectarian yutes practicing alternative revenue enhancement schemes,”

    A nice turn of phrase. Orwell would be proud of you.

    “There were so many ways that a group of men (real men) could have repelled the boarders.”

    The whole question of allowing such ships to fall prey to pirates probably has a lot to do with a combination of insurance (the insurance companies will pay for the problem, not the shipping companies) and liability (if we try to stop the piracy, maybe the insurance companies won’t pay for the loss)

    As such ships call at so many various international ports, there may be some questions as to the legality of carrying firearms on board. But there is no doubt, that being prepared for self defense is a good way to approach these potential problems. I will tell you about a couple of pirate or near pirate stories in the South China Sea and Strait of Malacca sometime.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      the legality of carrying firearms on board

      Screw legality. Are you telling me that if you were captain of that supertanker going into pirate-infested waters, you wouldn’t have easily smuggled a gun or a few rifles on board? I sure as hell would have. And so would you. Technicalities matter little if you are dead.

      And even if one has rather tender sensibilities and didn’t like the idea of blowing off one of the heads of these pirates, you could at least put a few slugs in their engine. Jesus. I mean, has the world gone crazy?

      Is this the culmination of the anti-gun culture in the West where we expect some “authority” to swoop in when we need them like Batman instead of people being their own first line of defense? I really think so.

      • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

        “Screw legality. Are you telling me that if you were captain of that supertanker going into pirate-infested waters, you wouldn’t have easily smuggled a gun or a few rifles on board?”

        I see I didn’t make my point clearly enough. It is the shipping companies, not the Captains who are calling the shots. The shipping companies, not the Captains, are concerned about insurance and the question of guns. The shipping companies dictate company policy regarding such things. In other words, the shipping companies have made their calculations as to what is more important to them, insurance or hostages.

        Not to be completely cynical, I would guess the shipping companies have determined that it is likelier that fewer crew members will be lost if they don’t put up a fight and let negotiators handle things.

        • Timothy Lane says:

          Or maybe they’ve just decided it’s cheaper for them. If that’s the case, the fate of the crews may be irrelevant to them.

        • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

          It is the shipping companies, not the Captains who are calling the shots.

          If you’re going into pirate-infested waters, wouldn’t you pack along in your kit a little extra security? I sure as hell would, especially if I’m the captain. Remember, I’m not talking about what the insurance companies or shipping companies calculate as the best policy. I’m talking about what an individual does (and will increasingly have to do in this world) to deal with bureaucratic insanity. When the British came for our guns at Lexington and Concord, did we just throw up our hands and say, “Well, those are the rules”?

          I’m truly aghast that the shipping company has no better security plan than water cannons. And if one were making a run from Alaska to Seattle, then perhaps that’s more of a non-issue. But to run these slow-moving, cargo-rich tankers past a known area where pirates ply their trade?

          I wonder how much political correctness enters into the picture. I can well imagine corporate board members willing to sacrifice the safety of their personnel to avoid that non-photogenic picture of some poor black Somali Muslim floating face-down in the water.

          I expected a story of heroism in this film — and that apparently will surely come later. But I’m struck by the central word “stupidity” as the theme of this film, just as that was my central impression of the film that so many conservatives are praising as bleeding patriotic red, white, and blue: “Lone Survivor.” Good god, if we have become that stupid, no wonder Al Qaeda is kicking our ass.

          • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

            “If you’re going into pirate-infested waters, wouldn’t you pack along in your kit a little extra security? I sure as hell would, especially if I’m the captain.”

            Perhaps not if you would take a chance of losing your job if you were caught.

            A ship’s captain of the type of vessel portrayed in the movie probably earns close to US$250,000 p.a. While he may worry about pirates, I would bet he worries about his salary more. If a master is found to contravene company policy, he takes the chance that that big salary and other nice perks go bye-bye.

            • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

              Perhaps not if you would take a chance of losing your job if you were caught.

              Oh, I have little doubt that that was the motivating factor for the captain. And it’s no shock to me, per se, that someone would put monetary considerations over their duty as a husband, father…or captain of a crew under his charge. But, Jesus, have we all become such weenies? I really think so. This is the “new man” we are seeing. And although I think it is the case that this captain later redeems himself, the point would be that he needed to.

              This book reminds me of Timothy’s review of a Titanic book. Good god, the dumb shits that can rise to the level of captain is amazing. And I think this goes to Glenn Fairman’s general spiel, if I may speak for him. There’s little doubt that this captain was a decent fellow. But he, like so many others, had become a mere functionary, a cog in a machine. Forgotten is just plain common sense and a duty higher than what some bureaucrat says.

              Man can be twisted by his government, by his corporation, or by his religion into a stupid thing. And we’re seeing that daily. One could condense our entire beef with the Establishment GOP as being the equivalent of a collective group of captains sailing in pirate-infested waters without any means of self-defense (and purposefully so). That is how beholden to mere outer forms (and how disconnected from manliness and common sense) these guys are.

              I finished reading one of C.S. Lewis’ books the other day. And in it he notes how mankind has become a cog in the capitalist machine. Now, had this idea not come from Lewis, it would have been highly suspect. But I understand what he means. He wonders what we will become if we are no more than economic creatures. And had the rather lame-ass Pope astutely made this point instead of (and I suspect he has been breast-fed on Cultural Marxism) the lame critique of free markets as he did, I wouldn’t have gotten so hot and bothered about it.

              I remembered the name of that book I was talking about in regards to Selwyn’s latest article about the cop who said he would follow rules, and that was the extent of his moral dimension. It’s a book called “The Death of Common Sense” by Philip K. Howard. The subtitle says it all: “How Law is Suffocating America.”

              One of the most amazing things is that the hardest act for mankind is moral courage. Frankly, I doubt that I have the skill or nerve to captain a supertanker into and out of port and to be responsible for such a vast array of tasks and people. I give Captain Phillips (and, really, his whole type) full credit. The same for those special forces guys who were the subject of the movie, “Lone Survivor.” But as it turns out, one of the easiest things to do is to mindlessly follow “authority,” to just go along to get along and not make any waves (pun not intended).

              Moral courage is probably lacking in most people in the best of times. But our PC culture is surely making it worse. Me, if I can’t find a way as captain to at least smuggle one small sidearm in my lunchbox and then stow it someplace where no one would possibly find it until it was needed, then what kind of man would I be? And I got a kick out of a scene in this movie where the captain was explaining the situation to the crew, that there were pirates heading their way. And one of them (or more than one of them said), “This is not what I signed on for.”

              Well, no, dumb ass. But this is the situation you face. But look at how people just reflexively shrink back into their cocoon of moral irresponsibility.

              • Timothy Lane says:

                That last bit reminds me of a Gahan Wilson cartoon in which a couple in a jungle house up on stilts notices some crocodiles that have climbed up the stilts onto their platform, with the caption being “They’re not supposed to be able to do that.”

                The comparison to the Titanic is interesting. We will always have our share of Stanley Lords; but do we (and will we) also have our Arthur Rostrons (whom we will need occasionally)?

                As for the Howard book, I think I have that around here somewhere. Is that the one in which he mentions the effort by New York City to set up port-a-johns for pedestrians, only to be halted by pro-handicapped activists who demanded full handicapped accessibility (which made the port-a-johns too expensive) even though they were already provided with rides by the city and thus didn’t need the access?

        • LibertyMark says:

          Better shipping companies making business decisions, than say, the Obama regime, no, Mr. Zu? Or the UN, God forbid.

          For sure, I am a NRA Second Amendment zealot, and while I may not agree with a business decision, at least it’s not made at the (government) point of a gun, eh?

          • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

            “Better shipping companies making business decisions, than say, the Obama regime, no, Mr. Zu? Or the UN, God forbid.”

            I agree. Piracy has been with us, probably, since people started floating wooden planks on water to carry themselves and their belongings across a creek.

            Modern shipping is pretty sophisticated where costs and risks are pretty well understood. The companies and individuals involved agree amongst themselves to the terms under which they operate and go their merry way.

            On a separate point, the USA really has no more jurisdiction in the Law of the Sea than any other country. For the USA national waters extend, I believe 12 miles beyond land. Beyond that, USA law does not apply. The USA considers this distance to hold true for all countries. (This number is disputed by various countries.)

            As I recall, the ship involved in “Escape” was a Maersk container vessel. Maersk, till recently, belonged to a Danish family of billionaires. It is not an American company. Furthermore, it is normal for the ownership of each individual vessel to be vested in a single company located in a “Flag of Convenience” country such a Panama or Liberia. This is done because 1) if something happens to a particular vessel and a claim is lodged, the costs/liability will not be born by the whole company, and 2) the laws of such countries as Panama and Liberia are very favorable to ship owners.

            The only legal question in the “Escape” case would then be the nationality of the crew and/or Captain. I suppose the fact that the Captain was American gave the Seals the grounds for action. Perhaps there was some political reason behind this as such hijackings had been going on for years prior to that time.

  4. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    “They’re not supposed to be able to do that.”

    LOL. That’s a good one, Tim. And we need all the Arthur Rostrons we can get. We need to have such people as our role models, although most of us will, of necessity, usually fall short. We need to make movies venerating these guys (which, really, is why John Wayne is such a great character).

    Instead we get movies that try to glorify and normalize what can only be consider one giant chain of fuck-ups and bad judgment, as in the movie, “Lone Survivor.” I should get to end of “Captain Phillips” today and see how far that analogy holds true. Up to about 45 minutes into it, it has.

    As for the Howard book, I think I have that around here somewhere. Is that the one in which he mentions the effort by New York City to set up port-a-johns for pedestrians, only to be halted by pro-handicapped activists who demanded full handicapped accessibility (which made the port-a-johns too expensive) even though they were already provided with rides by the city and thus didn’t need the access?

    That’s the death of common sense right there. And it’s the death of honorable people. Only a well-rehearsed bitter victim mentality could possibly object to port-a-johns because they are not accessible to the handicapped. Sorry, at some point in our society we have to tip our caps to, and accommodate, the 80% of people who pay for all this “handicap-friendly” stuff instead of constantly dumping on them because they’re not giving enough.

    • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

      The Founders were concerned with the “tyranny of the majority”. What we have developed into is a “tyranny of the minority special interest group”. This is, in large part, due to the legal profession running rampant in our society. There is an inverse correlation between the proliferation of laws and the amount of common sense in a society.

      • Timothy Lane says:

        I refer to this, depending on the precise situation, as juristocracy (rule by judges) or barristocracy (rule by lawyers).

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