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Escape Plan

For fans of 80s action movies, there’s nothing more exciting than the prospect of seeing Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger on the big screen together. We were lucky enough to see them tear it up in the finale to last year’s “The Expendables 2,” even if the movie itself was a tad bombastic when taken as a whole, but their time together was limited. In their newest, “Escape Plan,” they’re best buds. In fact, once Breslin (Stallone) finds himself locked in a seemingly inescapable high security prison, he and his muscular counterpart are practically inseparable and, naturally, they attempt to break out together. A warning to those 80s action fans: this isn’t the action extravaganza you might be hoping for and, frankly, if you want to see a breaking-out-of-prison movie, you should probably stick with 1979’s masterful “Escape from Alcatraz,” but if you find that movie to be too realistic and crave something a little bit faster, louder and dumber, this will suffice.

The set-up is fairly simple, if a bit absurd. Breslin has a unique talent. He has an uncanny ability to break out of prisons. His job, in a sense, is to incarcerate himself in high security prisons around the country, supposedly inescapable ones, and find their flaws. However, he has just taken on a job that may be too risky even for him. After being drugged and flown to a secret location, he finds himself locked up in a prison unlike anything he’s ever seen. After realizing he was set up to spend the rest of his life here, held captive by the evil warden Hobbes (Jim Caviezel), he gets determined to break out, but not without the help of Rottmayer (Schwarzenegger).

Other characters in the film, who serve mainly as Breslin’s consultants, are played by the likes of Vincent D’Onofrio, 50 Cent and Amy Ryan in a “what in the world is she doing in this?” role. Aside from some minor moments and a late movie twist, these characters are all throwaway and are there for nothing more than forced exposition. They’re missing for such a large chunk of the movie that by the time they pop up again near the end, you’ve nearly forgotten about them completely. Their inclusion is indicative of a movie with some neat ideas, but no real way to write them in, which is to say, the script is a mess, the dialogue simplistic and the story rote.

But “Escape Plan” is more than the sum of its parts. When it works, it fires on all cylinders, offering up some surprisingly exciting moments, including one slow motion “Arnold moment” that will have all classic action movie fans cheering. It’s with these moments that the film excels, when it throws out any notion of believability or proper storytelling (neither of which are its strong suits) and decides to ham it up—like Stallone’s “Expendables” movies, only less explosion-y.

Where “Escape Plan” falters most is in its careless handling of its two primary villains, the warden and a mystery character I’ve not named. While both actors do what they can in their roles, particularly Caviezel, who chews the scenery in a delightfully campy way, it’s the screenplay that ultimately lets them down, never really giving either much of an identity. Even worse, their send-offs are anticlimactic, amounting to nothing more than disappointing fizzles in a movie that promised more.

When all is said and done, “Escape Plan” will be one of those movies that will be enjoyed, but never watched again by the vast majority of those who see it. It’s a fun enough diversion while it lasts, but it doesn’t do enough to justify repeat viewings. It’s a welcome return for Schwarzenegger, if we can forget about the lackluster “The Last Stand” from earlier this year, and Stallone bounces back nicely after the dreadful “Bullet to the Head” from around the same time. This is not the movie a Stallone/Schwarzenegger crossover should be, but it’s worth a look nevertheless.

Escape Plan receives 3/5



I have to imagine Kevin James is a likable fellow. He strikes me as the type of person who, if approached on the street, wouldn’t mind chatting with fans, signing autographs and taking a few pictures. However, that affableness doesn’t make up for the fact that he’s made us sit through some of the trashiest, most foul, unwatchable pieces of garbage to come out in recent years. While he may be a nice guy in real life, he has never impressed in his films, which are almost always heavy-laden with physical comedy, an area where his abilities rest somewhere between slight and non-existent. He’s the type of comedian we’re supposed to laugh at simply because of his large visage, but laughing at someone’s weight is comedy of the shallowest order. James has starred in such abominations as Paul Blart: Mall Cop, Grown Ups and The Dilemma, but, if it can be believed, his newest film, Zookeeper, is his worst yet.

James plays Griffin, a zookeeper who is beloved by his animals. Five years prior, he popped the question to then-girlfriend, Stephanie, played by Leslie Bibb, but she shot him down because she was embarrassed by his occupation. Now, she has returned and Griffin once again finds himself falling for her. After overhearing a conversation one night, the animals learn that Griffin may be leaving the zoo. They’re none too happy with this news—besides, he’s the best zookeeper they’ve ever had—so they divulge their secret to him: they can talk. In an attempt to keep him around, they teach him mating techniques so he can snag the girl of his dreams without having to give up his job.

It would be easy to say that Zookeeper is absurd. Any movie with talking animals is, but as a colleague of mine pointed out, it’s weirder than usual and it gets weirder as it goes on. It’s strange enough watching James walk like a bear and learn to attract his mate with urine, but when the gorilla ends up at T.G.I. Friday’s, buys drinks for some cute ladies and ends up courting one of them, the film has clearly gone overboard. If anything can be said for it, Zookeeper doesn’t try to be anything other than what it is.

The problem is that what it is is a movie so desperate for laughs, it quickly resorts to tired slapstick and gross-out humor. In the first ten minutes alone, you’ll see Griffin fall over at least three times, break a tree limb that can’t carry his weight, get shot twice with porcupine quills and get splashed in the face with a lioness’s saliva. I suppose I should be grateful nobody gets covered in feces, especially given the nature of these types of films, but not throwing crap on someone comes off as faint praise for a movie with metaphorical smears all over it.

Zookeeper is juvenile, inane and utterly devoid of anything even remotely interesting, sure, but it’s surprisingly offensive as well, with traces of mild sexism and veiled homophobia throughout. While certainly minute in the big scheme of things, their diminutive nature makes them no less distasteful. For an entire scene, we watch as Griffin insults Stephanie and orders her to do things for him, playing up verbal abuse towards women as funny. Though not funny in any context, it’s especially shocking here given its PG rating and marketing towards children.

The only person treated with respect in the film is the zoo vet, played by Rosario Dawson, but even she is trapped in the archetypal “plain before pretty” role that has been outdated since Freddie Prinze Jr. fell for Rachael Leigh Cook in 1999’s She’s All That. It’s a shame because the filmmakers have gathered a great supporting voice cast that includes Nick Nolte, Adam Sandler, Sylvester Stallone, Cher, Judd Apatow, Jon Favreau, Maya Rudolph and Don Rickles, yet they are all squandered here, forced to recite insipid lines of dialogue about having thumbs and throwing poo. Frankly, it’s an embarrassing farce. Zookeeper is torturous, and that’s enough to make it one of the most unwatchable movies to be released this year.

Zookeeper receives 0.5/5


The Expendables

Those that know me will tell you I like to joke around. Maybe they’re pity laughs and I’m just too full of myself to notice, but I think I amuse people. As my screening for The Expendables approached, I joked that I would fall into a deep depression if it were bad. I stated how its failure would only be evidence as to the nonexistence of a god. Others said the film was so manly that if you went in clean shaven, you’d walk out with a full beard. With a cast that includes Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Mickey Rourke, Terry Crews, Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger and more, these statements are more than jokes. They transcend into fact. So it’s with a happy heart that I say I’m not depressed, there is a god and my beard is awesome.

Barney (Stallone), Lee (Statham), Ying Yang (Li), Hale (Crews), Toll Road (Couture) and Gunner (Lundgren) are the Expendables. They’re mercenaries for hire and when we meet them they are in the process of overtaking a Somalian pirate boat and rescuing their captives. However, Gunner goes a little berserk, prompting his removal from the team prior to their next mission where they are tasked with overthrowing the island of Vilena's evil dictator, General Garza (David Zayas). But things get complicated when they learn that Garza isn’t actually the prime target.

The Expendables, more than anything, is a love letter to action fans. It has runaway helicopters, car chases, fisticuffs, gun battles and all manner of explosions. Its whole reason for being is summed up in one late shot, directly after destroying a helicopter, where fire and carnage encompasses the entire screen. It knows what we’ve come for and it gives it to us.

Plain and simple, The Expendables is tons of fun. If 2008’s Rambo is any indication, Sylvester Stallone knows action. He’s the type of guy who should be handling these types of movies. He has lived and breathed them throughout his career and, although he’s no master behind the camera, he knows what gets the adrenaline pumping and pushes it to its limit.

But let’s be honest. It’s not a particularly great film. The idea behind The Expendables is a novelty at best—combine the best action stars of today with those from years past and make things go boom—but really, that’s all we need. I grew up with Dolph Lundgren (I must have watched Universal Soldier 50 times as a kid). I’ve missed Arnold Schwarzenegger and, although he’s only in the movie for a brief time, I loved seeing him back onscreen. The dialogue is basic and the story is routine, but I didn’t come for that. I came for the action and the nostalgia. That’s why, despite all its problems, it works.

As a fanboy, I can overlook those problems, but my requirements as a film critic say I cannot, so allow me to deviate from my textual nerdgasm. There are many side plots in The Expendables, all which feature exhaustive dialogue inconsequential to the overall narrative, like Lee’s girlfriend’s infidelity and pretty much any scene with Mickey Rourke, but my biggest reservation comes from how poorly the characters are juggled. It’s called The Expendables, but it seemed like it should have been called Sylvester Stallone and Friends because it sometimes felt like a vanity project for the aging star, focusing too much on him and not nearly enough on everybody else. Stallone brings together this legendary group of guys and then splits them all apart, taking the potential of the opening scene where they all work together and squandering it in favor of aloof admiration.

Could The Expendables have been better? Absolutely, but it delivered exactly what I expected: blood, bullets and lots of stuff blowing up. Based on those descriptors, you know whether or not this movie is for you. All I can tell you is that it was for me and I ate it up.

The Expendables receives 3.5/5