In First Blood, Richard Crenna plays Trautman, a harbinger figure whose function is to explain to the antagonists—and the audience—that John Rambo is “a man who’s been trained to ignore pain, ignore weather, to live off the land, to eat things that would make a billy goat puke!” If Trautman wandered into director Mikael Håfström’s Escape Plan, he would probably never shut up about how smart Sylvester Stallone’s Breslin is. “He finished Gravity’s Rainbow while defending his thesis! He’s been trained to catalyze reagents that would make niobium oxidize!” Even without him, the script takes pains to elevate the smartness of all the film’s muscley dudes. For one thing, they get to hang around the wonderful Amy Ryan, who raises the average intelligence of any room she occupies. 50 Cent plays the world’s best “cyber thug,” his brilliance conveyed via wearing glasses. Arnold Schwarzenegger enters with a literary reference. And in the film’s opening sequence, Breslin, a hypertrophic polymath hired to test prison facilities, ghosts his way out of solitary confinement using unapologetic MacGyver tactics. The film’s insecurity about the characters’ intellects is probably because of its generosity with punching—the punching is great, and frequent. Whenever the characters need to distract prison guards, they create punching-based diversions, ultimately punching their way right out of jail. The plot is a no-frills escape from a Guantanamo-like supermax prison evilly administered by Jim Caviezel. With its fun script and cheap visuals, Escape Plan evokes the halfwit cheesiness of 1980s-era Cannon films, but it also recalls the deft pacing and legibility of their action sequences.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on October 16, 2013