With the exit of summer’s CGI-woven fanboy epics, the Sylvester Stallone-Arnold Schwarzenegger team-up “Escape Plan” arrives to conjure a time when sneering T-level cases grunted, punched and shot their way out of jams.
Stallone, who’s engineered plenty of movie-jail breakouts over his career, plays prison-security expert Ray Breslin. Ray plays convict and ingeniously exposes the flaws in your federal penitentiary with wadded-up paper and a milk carton’s wax lining (plus a dozen other screenwriter-friendly circumstances). But when Ray agrees to scheme his way out of the Tomb, a new privately run, top-secret fortress meant to hold the world’s worst, this hulking Houdini learns too late he’s been caught in a cruel, impenetrable trap. Still, he’s got a “pen” pal in Schwarzenegger’s Emil Rottmayer — a wily inmate operator — to trade barbs, blows and strategies with, and plenty of vengeful motivation in Jim Caviezel’s sadistic warden.
Directed with sledgehammer nuance by Mikael Hafström, “Escape Plan” wants to come across as smarter than your run-of-the-mill action slab — Ray knows chemistry and computers! — and in allying with a Muslim inmate (Faran Tahir), a tad more PC. But no amount of Stallone giving his best I’m-thinking grimace can match the gleeful twinkle in his ‘80s marquee rival’s eyes for getting to be violent and nail all the laughs. “Escape Plan” is mostly a gray, thudding metal machine of throwback exploitation, but the goateed, goofy Ah-nold is so happy to be in the thick of an old-school bruiser again that he makes it feel like the dumb-fun flashback party it is.
MPAA rating: R for violence and language throughout.
Running time: 1 hour, 56 minutes.
Playing: In general release.