Escape Plan ✮✮1/2

Buddies Behind Bars

by Glenn Lovell

F. Scott obviously didn’t factor in the resilient Sly Stallone when he said there are no second acts in American lives. Stallone, now on his third ‒ or is it the fourth? ‒ comeback, has handily disproved Fitzgerald’s pronouncement. Sly returns this week as Ray Breslin, an escape artist extraordinaire who’s paid big bucks to be incarcerated. He tests out prisons by finding holes in their security systems. It’s a solid star turn in a brawny action thriller that benefits from decent CG effects and lively supporting turns by Arnold Schwarzenegger as a fellow inmate and Jim Caviezel as the deceptively natty warden.

In the generically titled “Prison Plan,” directed by Sweden’s Mikael Håfström (“The Rite,” “1408”), Breslin gets in over his head. When the CIA comes calling, he agrees to go undercover in a privately owned facility that’s “off the grid.” The prison is like something out of a sci-fi movie ‒ staggered Plexiglas container cells, robotic-looking guards straight out of “THX 1138.” How super-hush-hush is this place? So secret that no one knows where it’s located. To escape, Breslin will have to work his three-step system: learn the layout, learn the guards’ routine, find inside help.

Steps two and three are pretty easy. Sam Neill as the vaguely sympathetic prison doctor may lend a hand. It’s finding out where the prison is located that takes time. Breslin senses that they’re beneath the surface. Unfortunately, the clock is ticking ‒ someone wants our hero either permanently warehoused or dead. And Warden Hobbes, who as played by Caviezel reminded me of the sadistic Hume Cronyn in “Brute Force,” is only too happy to oblige.

Stallone plays Stallone ‒ surly, laconic, gravel-voiced. But that’s OK, it’s what we’ve come to expect from the action star in his post-Rambo personae. (Last year’s “Bullet to the Head” provided a bit more, but no one was interested.) Of course it helps that Stallone is re-teamed with the cagey Schwarzenegger. After the “Expendables” movies, these guys are old friends and play off one another as easily as De Niro and Pacino. They greet each other in perfect Cro-Magnon fashion. Sly belts Arnie, who massages his chin, smiles and says, “You hit like a vegetarian.”

“Escape Plan” could have been as mind-numbing as a 20-year stretch in Sing-Sing (remember Stallone’s 1989 prison saga,”Lock Up”?). That it isn’t says loads about how far Sly has rebounded since his last career slump. I wouldn’t say he’s back on top, but he certainly has bypassed Harrison Ford and Schwarzenegger as the AARP action hero .

ESCAPE PLAN ✮✮1/2 With Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jim Caviezel, Vincent D’Onofrio, Sam Neill, Amy Ryan, Faran Hahir. Directed by Mikael Håfström; scripted by Miles Chapman, Jason Keller. 116 min. Rated R (for profanity, violence)

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