The prospect of Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger going head to head may not be as tantalizing as it was 25 years ago. But it's still the best thing that the ridiculous and routine prison-break thriller Escape Plan has going for it. Yes, these two well-preserved ghosts of action movies past recently faced off in The Expendables, diminishing some of the novelty value of their sexagenarian summit. But that was little more than a drive-by. Here, the sales pitch is that they finally share significant screen time. And, god bless them, these two throwbacks to red-meat, Reagan-era cinema huff and puff trying to make the most of what they're given by director Mikael Hafstrom. Which, sadly, ain't much.
Stallone gets top-billing as Ray Breslin, a wily security expert whose M.O. is posing as a supermax inmate and busting out of federal penitentiaries by finding and exploiting their weak spots. At the beginning of the film, we watch as he displays his MacGuyver-esque wits to waltz out of a Colorado facility and make the guards look like slack-jawed yokels. His security company's partner, played by Vincent D'Onofrio, describes him as the firm's ''resident Houdini.'' As his follow-up job, Breslin is hired by a shady CIA operative (is there any other kind in the movies?) to test a new, top-secret black ops facility where the baddest of the bad, including several Al Qaeda figures, are held under high-tech lock and key. The gig comes with a huge payday and a challenge too juicy for a guy like Breslin to pass up. He agrees to be abducted, tased, and flown off to a futuristic glass-and-steel Guantanamo-type facility lorded over by a sadistic warden (Jim Caviezel) and swarms of cattleprod-wielding masked guards who look like they wandered in from an Eyes Wide Shut orgy.
There, he quickly learns that he's been double-crossed. So he teams up with a fellow inmate, Schwarzenegger's Teutonic slab of goateed granite, Emil Rottmayer, to plan a seemingly impossible jailbreak. Thankfully, their plot includes staging a fake brawl, which allows anyone who grew up on '80s flicks the singular thrill of seeing Rambo belt the Terminator across the chops and have him quip back: ''You hit like a vegetarian.'' Self-aware one-liners like that and the two leads' undeniable charisma are the sole reason to see the film. The reasons not to include a murky plot that's way more complicated than it needs to be and Hafstrom's ham-handed approach to a political subtext about America's controversial Age of Terror rendition policy. Consider it a wash.
Schwarzenegger, for one, seems to be having a hoot. Maybe it's because the Austrian Oak's been in Sacramento and away from the screen for so long, but here he's a grinning live wire. During the film's admittedly rousing climax, he yanks a ludicrously large machine gun off its mount, hoists it in his bulging arms, and sprays hot lead at a bunch of the Eyes Wide Shut goons, barking, ''Have a lovely day, a—hole!'' And for a giddy, all-too-brief moment, it actually feels like 1988 again. Too bad that when that unfiltered hit of Reagan-era nostalgia finally wears off, we're left with a movie no one will remember in 25 years…or 25 days. C