Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks? Well, anyone who’s seen a Sylvester Stallone movie lately. Stallone, even as he enters retirement age, is determined to hang onto his action-movie star status, and to his credit, he still comes equipped with biceps capable of busting someone’s spine.
After duly noting the box-office success of his two “Expendables” movies — which featured a flock of 1980s action heroes — Stallone continues to milk the two-for-the-price-of-one approach with “Escape Plan,” teaming up with his former A-list rival Arnold Schwarzenegger for a prison-break flick. This would have been a coup de grace in the early ’90s, but if it seems a bit past its sell-by date in 2013, well, think again; although the film opened weakly in the United States, recouping only half its $50 million budget, it has picked up steam internationally, to the tune of $100 million and counting.
“Escape Plan” has one good plot twist that comes fairly early on in the movie, so I won’t spoil it here, but will say only that Stallone plays a guy who is an expert at busting out of jail, repeatedly tweaking his nose at the authorities until someone decides to disappear him to an off-the-books CIA black prison. This one seems more or less inescapable: Each prisoner is contained in a small cell built on stilts with glass walls, video surveillance and 24-7 floodlighting. The warden (Jim Caviezel) is a fastidious sadist, and you know the prisoners are in for a rough time when Vinnie Jones heads a security force that looks like the “THX 1138″ robo-cops. Amy Ryan and Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson turn up as Sly’s cronies, Schwarzenegger as another CIA prisoner, Sam Neill plays a possibly sympathetic prison doctor and Vincent D’Onofrio a crooked contractor.
Swedish director Mikael Hafstrom — best known for the haunted hotel room flick “1408″ with John Cusack — does make sure to include the reason people will go to see this film: Sly and Arnie going head-to-head in a knock-down brawl. But Hafstrom also seems determined to stretch his stars a bit: This is probably the first and last film to feature shot after shot of Stallone thinking really hard and Schwarzenegger reciting Nietzsche in German.
An even bigger surprise is to see The Governator, a dyed-in-the-wool Republican, playing an inmate who’s an anti-government anarchist belonging to an organization modeled more or less on WikiLeaks. It is a strange turn of the times indeed when a film starring Stallone and Schwarzenegger has for its bad guys not a horde of evil commies or terrorists but the CIA and Blackwater-esque defense contractors. Think I’m exaggerating? Well, Schwarzenegger even gets water-boarded, and the great escape, when it comes, is aided by a valiant jihadist.
Some things, however, never change: Schwarzenegger still has his cheesy one-liners (“You hit like a vegetarian!”), Sly gets to deck people half his age with a single punch, and much ammunition is fired. You’ll feel like the ’80s never ended. What next? Stallone (“Rocky”) and Robert De Niro (“Raging Bull”) playing aging boxers? Um, yes, actually: “Grudge Match” opens in April.
For a chance to win an “Escape Plan” key-ring torch, visit jtimes.jp/film.