Not a minute too soon, as recent solo vehicles "Bullet to the Head" and "The Last Stand" tanked badly earlier this year. This team effort is called "Escape Plan," a straight-ahead prison picture that lets the two stars do their thing.
Stallone is a jailhouse escape specialist -- yes, that's his business -- in consultation with prison systems about making their facilities stronger. But when he is placed in a fearsome secret prison called the Tomb, he's cut off from his usual support system. It seems somebody wants him out of the business.
Big Arnie is already in the joint and the two guys join forces. A handful of nicely turned revelations are spaced out along the way, and the warden (cold-eyed Jim Caviezel in quietly depraved form) is a suitably nasty antagonist.
The two stars don't so much leap into action as hobble into the frame, but they do generate some effective banter.
A goateed Schwarzenegger looks good and brings a twinkle to most of his scenes; he even gets an extended pretend-freakout that lets him spout dialogue in his native German. (This is a much better comeback vehicle for the former governor than "The Last Stand," it turns out.)
Whatever Stallone has done to alter his face and body has not served him well. Everything about him is overdeveloped, with the possible exception of a sense of irony -- he's like a bull, forging straight ahead through multiple beatings and questionable dialogue.
Vincent D'Onofrio and Amy Ryan contribute useful character bits, while Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson rushes through his dialogue as though thinking about his next album.
Swedish filmmaker Mikael Hafstrom ("The Rite") whips up a few successful chase scenes, and despite the preposterous nature of some of the plot turns, he brings the whole thing to a satisfactory conclusion.
There's something almost heartwarming about seeing the two macho stars line up for a round of gut-punches and head-banging.
And Hafstrom goes into affectionate slow motion when Schwarzenegger finds himself in proximity to a machine gun. As far as this movie is concerned, that's like Picasso finding his paintbrushes after a long layoff.
"Escape Plan" (2½ stars)
Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger team up for a prison picture--and the good news is, it's a decent action flick. We've got a cruel warden (Jim Caviezel) and a few nice plot revelations, plus the two '80s stars doing their trademark thing. Big Arnie comes off especially well in this one.
Rated: R for violence, language.
Showing: Cinebarre, Everett Stadium, Galaxy Monroe, Marysville, Stanwood, Pacific Place, Thornton Place, Woodinville, Cascade Mall, Oak Harbor.
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