At 90 minutes or less and with some sense of its own silly preposterousness, the aging action stars might have made this prison break movie work. But at almost two hours, Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger seem a little out of step with what makes a man-against-the-system crashes, punches, artillery, and explosions movie work.
Stallone, with so much scar tissue and Botox that his face no longer moves, plays Roy Breslin, whose job is breaking out of prisons to evaluate the vulnerabilities of their security and advise on making them escape-proof. He gets sent to prison undercover, only the warden knowing who he really is, and then he has to find a way to escape. Over the past seven years, he has been “inserted into every maximum security facility in the system” and managed to get out of all of them. You need three things for a prison escape, he explains (twice): understanding the layout, understanding the routines, and help, either from outside or inside.
A beautiful (of course) agent from the CIA (of course) arrives to offer Breslin and his obsessively hand-sanitizing partner Lester Clark (Vincent D’Onofrio, looking like he needs a soul-sanitizer) double their usual fee (of course). “After ending extraordinary rendition,” she explains, “the Agency is looking for alternatives.” A new prison has been built and they want Breslin to check it out. It contains the worst of the worst (of course), the kind of people who are captured and kept without any access to lawyers or the justice system. Over the objections of his colleague (a slumming Amy Ryan), he accepts the job, with three guarantees of his safety. He gets a tracking chip implanted in his arm so his office will always know where he is. He has the name of the warden who knows his true identity. And he has an “escape code,” a sort of safe word that is the prison break specialist equivalent of “olly olly outs are in free.” Of course, all three are immediately gone or useless.
The prison is a vast, futuristic place with glass cages suitable for Magneto and guards wearing riot gear and identical black masks. Breslin is ignored by most of his fellow inmates, but one prisoner seems curious and even friendly. His name is Rottmayer (Schwarzenegger). Pretty soon they are frenemies, fighting each other to get into solitary (where they are tortured with heat lamps) so Breslin can figure out where they are and learn the layout. Faran Tahir stands out as a fellow prisoner. And James Caviezel is the kind of psycho warden who wears beautiful suits, speaks quietly, especially when he is threatening prisoners, and listens to classical music as he impales butterflies.
There are one or two good twists but several bad ones. Most of the time, it veers between dumb (the entire concept) to dumber: at one moment, Breslin says, “I didn’t see that coming,” and several members of the audience called out, “We did!” and the part where the doctor consults a book prominently titled “Medical Ethics” brought catcalls. And in the big shoot-out, the escapees’ running and ducking seems to be more effective against automatic weapons than the guards’ protective gear. There is some mild pleasure in seeing Rambo and the Terminator throw down with each other and the usual bang-bang thrills. Schwarzenegger in particular seems to be enjoying himself, especially when he gets to give a couple of Burgess Meredith-style pep talks. But these guys have done better and they should know better.
Parents should know that this film has constant action-style violence with some graphic images, guns, explosions, punches, knives, abuse and brutality, and strong language including bigoted epithets.
Family discussion: How did Breslin’s three required elements form the basis of his escape plan? Why did it matter that the prison was privately controlled?
If you like this, try: “Under Siege,” “Lockout,” “Terminator,” and “Rambo”