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Escape Plan: Sylvester & Arnie Join Forces
Following the roaring success of The Expendables and its unnecessary sequel, Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger team up for their first ever one-on-one, on-screen matchup in Escape Plan. Directed by Swedish filmmaker, Mikael Hafstrom – the man behind 2007 horror-thriller 1408 and 2005's Derailed – the film, unfortunately, falls short of both its promise and potential.
Ray Breslin (Stallone) is a highly skilful escape artist who specialises in testing the reliability of security systems used in maximum security prisons. As the co-owner of Breslin-Clark, with partner Lester Clark (D'Onofrio), Ray's job entails a few rather unconventional tasks; after gaining access to prisons, he escapes to highlight the security's faults.
His work soon draws attention from the CIA, who are keen to have the expert test a security system in their latest high-tech slammer. The multi-million dollar deal, however, doesn't sit well with Ray's devoted colleagues, Hush (50 Cent) and Abigail (Ryan), who find the whole thing a little suspicious. Despite his partners' hesitations, Ray agrees to the deal and soon finds himself sharing quarters with some of the most dangerous criminals in the world.
Soon after his arrival, and after the meeting with the prison's warden Hobbes (Caviezel), Ray senses that something is wrong; no one seems to know who he is or what he's there to accomplish. Realising that he needs to escape the as soon as possible, Ray befriends Emil Rottmayer (Schwarzenegger) and the duo soon learn that escaping the prison walls is not as easy as they think.
Never ones to shy away from the spotlight, it's surprising to learn that this long-awaited matchup has been in the works for quite some time. Therefore, it's even more surprising that neither actor appears fully connected to their roles. Seemingly set in their ways, both Stallone and Schwarzenegger rely heavily on a repertoire of cheesy one liners and overflowing bravado.
Additionally, almost every scene is shot with extreme close-ups, which proves rather unflattering for the time-worn stars. With very few action scenes, Stallone and Schwarzenegger are given little room to do what they do best. Meanwhile, despite being full of familiar faces, the supporting cast are neglected by the story, instead giving the spotlight to a watered down Sylvester and Arnie.
Escape Plan is filled with recognisable action film traits – but not the good kind. This is a film with a predictable plot, awful dialogue and far too many clichés, whose only potential redeeming features are equally downtrodden.
Like Tina Fey and Amy Poehler before her, Amy Schumer is the in comedienne in Hollywood right now and her first major role couldn’t have come under the conductorship of a better person; Judd Apatow. The man who had a hand in The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up, Superbad and Anchorman is comedy royalty in Hollywood and, as a director, has a knack for bringing out the best in his actors with his very character-driven comedies and does exactly that with Schumer, giving her a perfect platform to introduce herself to the world.
There isn’t exactly much that you could call innovative with the plot of Trainwreck and so all of its enjoyment is owed to the actors themselves. The story follows Schumer’s character, also named Amy, and her toil and trouble in the game of love. Barely functioning as an active member of society, Amy drinks to get drunk, smokes to get high and jumps in bed with strange men to forget – all that despite being in a relationship with a gym-rat ably played by WWE wrestler and occasional actor, John Cena.
Through her work with a magazine, she comes to meet a sports doctor, Aaron Conners (Hader), and end up falling for each other, with the only potential obstacle standing in the way of a future together being Amy’s fear of commitment.
Again, there’s not a lot about the plot that will blow you away; two lovers-to-be come to fall for each other in unlikely circumstances, an event brings to light a problem with one or more of them which builds a barrier between them, before one of them has the courage to make a compromise and they live happily ever after. It’s the basic template that all romantically infused films are based on and there’s no getting away from it, especially when thrown in a hotpot with comedy.
But it’s Schumer and her supporting cast – as well as that Judd Apatow touch – that keep the viewer engaged in what is otherwise a pedestrian story. The humour is sharp and witty, but, most importantly, the characters are very relatable, with the script not falling back on clichés. The viewer isn’t expected to see the characters through rose-tinted shades; it doesn’t boil down people to good or bad; they’re just human.
More important than all that, however, is that Trainwreck is funny, ridiculous, but at times endearing – a perfect recipe for a rom-com.
British director, Guy Ritchie, is somewhat of a divisive character in the world of cinema; the former Mr Madonna stirred British film with his first two features, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch, but his filmography from then on reads like a lexicon of poorly realised visions (he had Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law and Mark Strong to play with in Sherlock Holmes, yet still made a mess of it), the latest of which comes in the form of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.
Based on the 60s TV show of the same name, some of Hollywood’s top male leads were rumoured to be in the running for the role of the brilliantly named Napolean Solo – think Ryan Gosling, Channing Tatum, Matt Damon, Christian Bale, Michael Fassbender, Bradley Cooper, Leonardo DiCaprio, Russell Crowe, Chris Pine, Ryan Reynolds, Jon Hamm – before this generation’s Superman, Henry Cavill, was cast – and it’s not a bad choice.
While many have used words like ‘wooden’ and ‘uncharismatic’ to adjudge the 32 year-old Brit’s portrayal of Superman, the man who many are predicting will take the 007 mantle from Daniel Craig fits the Guy Ritchie aesthetic and you’ll find yourself rooting for him as he teams up with a KGB officer played by Arnie Hammer to stop a Nazi nuclear threat that looms over both the US and Russia in the early 60s.
As with so many of Ritchie’s films, the style shadows the substance, but the director’s distinctive aesthetic shines and carries the film through some enjoyable action set-pieces. There’s a pleasing marriage of humour, kitsch and basic action that Ritchie has come to perfect and while The Man From U.N.C.L.E. pales in comparison to Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch whose success was owed partly to its satirical take on the British underworld, you won’t get bored, even if it is in fact the sets, the costumes and the more than photogenic cast that keep you engaged.
At the end of the day, however, you can’t get away from the fact that the film doesn’t exactly avoid spy-film clichés; the basic story – two opposing spies team-up to fight a mysterious enemy with unclear motives – proves as such and the film as whole doesn’t stand-up to second viewing – fool me once, et al.
The Man From U.N.C.L.E. is Ritchie’s first film in almost four years and if he is ever to be considered an auteur, which his initial rise promised, he needs to do something spectacular and soon.