Director: Steven C. Miller
Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Dave Bautista, Curtis Jackson, Huang Xiaoming, Jesse Metcalfe, Jamie King, Alphonso A'Qen-Aten Jackson
RunTime: 1 hr 36 mins
Rating: PG13 (Some Violence and Coarse Language)
Released By: Golden Village Pictures
Opening Day: 5 July 2018
Synopsis: Years after he fought his way out of an inescapable prison, Ray Breslin (Academy Award® nominee and Golden Globe® winner Sylvester Stallone) has organised a new top-notch security force. But when one of his team members goes missing, Breslin must return to the hell he once escaped from to save his friend from the prison’s brutal human battleground known as Hades.
No one was asking for a sequel to ‘Escape Plan’, least of all one without the original pairing of Schwarzenegger and Stallone that made it such guilty B-movie pleasure. But apparently the producers of that film thought having one half of the duo was on board was good enough, so here we are with Stallone reprising his role as security specialist Ray Breslin, who as the opening minutes establish, is now the head of his own eponymous firm whose specialty is breaking people out of prisons. Yet equally, that same sequence which finds Breslin’s associates rescue a trio of journalists held hostage by Chechnyan terrorists establishes that Stallone is no longer the star of his own show; instead, this sequel riding on his coattails rests on his younger proteges, including that played by Mainland Chinese actor Huang Xiaoming and former ‘Desperate Housewives’ star Jesse Metcalfe.
Neither for that matter should anyone expect new addition Dave Bautista to take over Schwarzenegger’s role in the previous film in any meaningful capacity; though Bautista’s mercenary-for-hire Trent DeRosa is Breslin’s ally for breaking out of the new state-of-the-art prison named Hades, it isn’t until the final act that these two characters actually work together. It goes without saying too that those expecting a mano-a-mano showdown between Stallone and Bautista need not even bother, since the sloppily written script by returning writer Miles Chapman doesn’t give DeRosa much of a backstory and/or much by way of interaction between Breslin and DeRosa. Less we suspect out of artistic license than investor obligations, the lead of the movie is Huang’s Shu Ren, who finds himself trapped with his cousin Ma Yusheng (Chen Tang) in Hades so some Russian company can extract advanced satellite tech knowledge from the latter’s enterprise.
Ren’s imprisonment triggers a race-against-time by Breslin and his team to rescue Ren, and the stakes become higher when another of Breslin’s operatives Luke Walken (Metcalfe) is also kidnapped after pursuing a lead by himself. Meanwhile, from the inside, Stallone’s voice provides sagely advice for Ren to try to outsmart the intricate prison design, which seems to have been stolen from the classic indie science-fiction movie ‘Cube’. Ren also has to contend with regular ‘Fight Club’-styled brawls with the other inmates, the winners of whom are given a couple of hours of zen time in an artificial sanctuary. There is a midway twist that the filmmakers may have intended as a ‘wow’ moment, but which discerning audiences will simply be waiting for from the point it is set up at the start of the movie.
At the very least, there needed to be two things that the film needed to get right. One, the very design of the so-called impenetrable prison, given how that is what the premise rests on. Sadly, neither direct-to-video specialist director Steven C. Miller or his production designer Niko Vilaivongs seem to have given enough time and thought into fleshing out the design fully and satisfyingly. There is some talk about Hades being a moving prison whose layout changes by way of an AI named Galileo, but aside from the occasional animated blueprint, we never get a good sense just how the logic of that automation works. Because Hades remains less concrete than conceptual, the whole escape plan isn’t quite compelling at all, which in itself makes the film fundamentally – and we might even add, structurally – flawed.
Two, as an action movie, it needs to deliver on the action. Alas, Miller and his cinematographer Brian Cox cannot seem to shoot a proper action sequence for nuts. From what we are able to make out, Huang, Metcalfe and Chatham do have some pretty good hand-to-hand combat scenes, but much of that effort is unfortunately lost to the cardinal sin in action photography, the shaky-cam. Oh yes, this is another one of those films which is either naively inspired by the ‘Bourne’ trilogy or is simply using the technique to cover up its own lack thereof, so every single one of the fights is lost in a flurry of moving close-ups. For the record, Stallone has only one fight scene at the end that lasts for all about one minute, and Bautista doesn’t even have the chance to get physical with anyone else in the movie.
To give due credit, Huang is actually quite a charismatic sort of lead – and by sort of, we mean that the film actually loses interest in Ren in the second half, becoming an ensemble that gives Ren, Luke and two other of Breslin’s associates (played by Jaime King and Curtis ’50 Cent’ Jackson) equal screen time. That is also why Huang is underserved by the film itself, especially since he does give his full physical and emotional commitment to his role when he is given the chance to. The same cannot be said of anyone else on the cast; indeed, not even Stallone looks or sounds invested in the movie at all, even though this is a franchise that he arguably kickstarted.
The least the filmmakers could have done is to make good on whatever goodwill that audiences who have seen the first movie have had for it, but no, ‘Escape Plan 2’ is little more than a hack job casually tossed out for the direct-to-video market in some territories and the unsuspecting cinematic audience in others. Even more shocking is how the producers have gone ahead to complete a third film starring Stallone and Bautista yet again, who are seen here in the closing minutes promising to take the fight to the founders of Hades. We won’t say that this sequel belongs to the depths of hell (because we’ve seen much worse from this group of producers), but unless you’re in the mood for some truly mediocre B-action movie thrills, you should know better than to have to escape from this tedium.
(If even Stallone can't hardly be bothered, you should know better than to waste your time on this half-baked sequel that's badly plotted and sloppily executed)
Review by Gabriel Chong