"You hit like a vegetarian!"

Emil Rottmayer (Arnold Schwarzenegger)

Ray Breslin (Sylvester Stallone) is a former prosecutor turned structural engineer, who is paid to test maximum security prison security by breaking out from inside. When Ray and his team accept a lucrative but risky offer from a government agent, Ray soon finds himself locked inside The Tomb - one of the world's most secure and secretive jails. Separated from his team outside and with an unknown enemy keen on keeping him locked away forever, Breslin must form an unlikely alliance with fellow inmate Emil Rottmayer (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and find a way to break out of the unbreakable fortress.

There is a lot of mileage in the phrase, "They don't make 'em like they used to anymore", and on a personal front, this applies significantly to the muscle-bound action movie genre. Growing up on a healthy (or unhealthy, depending on your point of view) diet of Schwarzenegger and Stallone movies left me with some indelible memories of gratuitous violence, pithy one-liners and extremely oversized male role models beating the crap out of baddies. And while either of these two action megastars could still snap me like the twig that I am today, the two have not been served with the best material since the heady heights of the late 80s and early 90s. 

Sly has probably been dealt with the harsher hand - whilst The Expendables was OK as a remember-the-Eighties action fix, its sequel was a weaker compilation of former catchphrases and patchwork set-pieces. Director Walter Hill's rather disappointing Bullet to the Head was leaden and derivative, and even Stallone's sober return as John Rambo was more about pushing the intensity of the violence to its utmost extreme. At Least Arnie has had an excuse - his role as the Governator did take up all of his time. And perhaps his work since his return to the big screen will not replace the joyous memories of The Terminator, Predator and Total Recall. But his fleeting appearances in the Expendables movies hinted at the old magic he still possesses, while his first major role in Kim Ji-woon's modern western The Last Stand showcased a much lighter touch and a greater sense of fun than his old action rival Stallone.

It will therefore come as no surprise that, in my humble opinion, Escape Plan is not going to change this status much. If it is to be compared to the previous output from the two old action pros, this would be placed alongside Sly's Tango & Cash and Cobra, or Arnie's Raw Deal and Red Heat. And yet, while no-one could really argue that these films were the cream of their steroid-induced oeuvre, there are many action fans who will voice a considerate soft spot for them. And Escape Plan will fit right in amongst them.

Starting with the negatives, it is fair to say that the plot does not stand up to much scrutiny. While the basic concept of the film is intriguing enough, the set-up is very basic and does not really stand up to much scrutiny. But then again, this argument can be relayed to most of Stallone and Schwarzenegger's movies. Characterization is also far too thin on the ground, even for an action movie such as this. There is only a vague level of motivation for Stallone's Ray Breslin for doing the type of work he is doing, while seasoned actors like Amy Ryan and Vincent D'Onofrio try in vain to produce something tangible from the non-existent roles offered to them. Even Stallone himself is far too sombre and morose as the lead character, leaving you yearning for the fun-loving Sly of Demolition Man days gone by. The action is solid but unremarkable, while even the location - a vertical glass-cell construct with no windows and masked screws armed with electric shock batons - is not quite as dominating and oppressive as you would hope.

So far, this does not make a glowing endorsement for your Saturday night movie fix. Therefore it is a gift from the Gods that director Mikael Håfström lets Schwarzenegger step up to the plate and throw himself headlong into his role as the experienced "fixer" in the Tomb. Arnie's Rottmayer is the movie's primary saving grace and the former Governor of California is having a real blast. Where Stallone tries to convey dour emotion and pensive genius, Arnie goes for all-out pantomime and is all the more entertaining for it. Who else could laugh his way through a water-boarding interrogation with such glee, or tap into his inner Bavarian nutcase while locked in solitary confinement? And when Arnie rips off a helicopter-mounted machine gun and opens Hellfire on the villainous prison guards, the gleam in his eyes has never shone as brightly since the good old days. Ably backing him up are the movie's main antagonists - Jim Caviezel has some fun as the butterfly-loving, O.C.D. warden Hobbes, while Vinnie Jones makes for a perfectly good psychotic henchman. And despite their largely forgettable set-ups, the action set-pieces are still big enough and thrilling enough to allow Sly and Arnie plenty of one-liner opportunities when dispatching their evil foes. Any action fan will keenly lap all of this up with joy - proving that there is still plenty of life in the old musclebound dogs yet.


While one is hard-pressed to call this an action classic, Escape Plan is largely successful in its macho endeavors. Indifferent plotting and by-the-numbers characterization may bring the mood down, but Schwarzenegger gamely takes the film by the scruff of the neck and injects it with a sheer sense of joy and good humor sorely lacking in his cohort. Check your brain at the door, banish away memories of the last Expendables movie and have a fun night out with Sly and Arnie.


 
 
"I've trained my whole life to be a general, but I never could. So I became the next best thing - a movie director."

John Milius

John Milius - one of Hollywood's most influential and controversial writer-directors. This intimate talking-head documentary takes a look into his life, from his childhood aspirations to join the military to his formative years at USC Film School, alongside such alumni as George Lucas and Steven Spielberg. The film details his legendary work on films such as Dirty Harry, Apocalypse Now, Jaws, Conan the Barbarian and Red Dawn, before highlighting his ultimate dismissal from Hollywood because of his radical beliefs and controversial behavior.

"He doesn't write for pussies and he doesn't write for women", states the ever-so-manly Sam Elliot when asked to describe the work of John Milius. Never was there a more accurate description for one of Hollywood's enfants terrible. Similar contributions from icons such as Harrison Ford, Clint Eastwood and Arnold Schwarzenegger begin to paint a picture of an ultimate man-movie auteur. And when you consider the body of work he has amassed over a career spanning nearly five decades, it is difficult to argue. This affectionate documentary from Joey Figueroa and Zak Knutson allows the interviewees to draw an image of (for many) a friend and compatriot that was unfashionably Right wing in an almost exclusively Liberal Tinseltown.

 At the forefront of a Hollywood New Wave, which saw the arrival of film makers such as Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola and the aforementioned Spielberg & Lucas, John Milius was one of the first to find work with the studios. The documentary shines the spotlight on his adaptation of Conrad's Heart Of Darkness into Apocalypse Now (then originally envisioned as a low key documentary-style war drama to be directed my George Lucas) as well as Spielberg's need for some "beefing up" in the writing of a very important scene in Jaws - namely, Quint's recollection of his experiences aboard the USS Indianapolis during World War II. The film is at its best when the interviewees describe the more intimate secrets to their relationship with Milius - whether he was to threaten studio bigwigs with shotguns or show up to a film set in full military garb. It is very clear that John Milius was one of the most intimidating men to work with.

When Milius was able to force a move into the director's chair, the stories become even more elaborate and controversial. The film takes delight in placing the camera right in the face of the interviewees as they describe in fantastic detail just how manic it can be when working for a true Hollywood Maverick. When Milius made Red Dawn in the mid Eighties, it became very clear that Hollywood had had enough and virtually blacklisted Milius. The film then details the financial difficulties he faced when a close friend absconded with his money. The film also hits a very sad note when dealing with a severe debilitating stroke that cost one of Hollywood's finest screenwriters the gift of speech and walk. The directors allow a natural sense of regret to pervade, without ever having to use histrionics to underline this. And as the film ends on a possibility of a comeback, thanks to successful therapy and a renewed energy for unmade projects like a mooted Genghis Kahn biopic, the resulting film is one of those informative documentaries that provides plenty of insight as well as entertainment, especially for those that know the films but not the name.


While very much a reverence and less a critique, Milius is nonetheless an entertaining and fascinating look into the life and work of a true Hollywood individual. If you love the smell of napalm in the morning, check this out when you can - it will really make your day.