Friday 20 July 2018

Lock it up: "Escape Plan 2"

I refer you to McCahill's Third Law of Movie Physics: given enough time, everything - no matter how dumb or dingy - eventually gets a sequel. You may vaguely remember that back in 2013, Sly Stallone and Arnie Schwarzenegger were paired as cellmates in Escape Plan, a dimly lit runaround that played like TV's Prison Break on Sanatogen. The all-but-direct-to-DVD Escape Plan 2 does its very best to junk the one thing that non-event movie had going for it: the flexing of old-school, analogue moviestar muscle. Arnie, wisely, has made a run for it and is nowhere to be seen; Sly's security mastermind (stop sniggering) Ray Breslin has outsourced the really heavy lifting, running and fighting to a team of at best semi-recognisable faces, leaving him free to squint at spreadsheets, paw at Jaime King (just the thirty years his junior) and do a light spot of voiceover. It's a sign of the movie times that a significant proportion of this new cast should be Asian, which would appear less a bid for diversity recognition than an acknowledgement the original film took more money in the Far East - where the Planet Hollywood brand may still retain some currency - than it did back home. To that end, the sequel has several members of Breslin's outfit captured while visiting Shanghai and thrown into a top-secret, futuristically appointed chokey known as Hades; its inmates (who look like 17 in total, some indication of budgetary rescaling) are required to fight one another for benefits in an arena referred to as "the Zoo".

The futuristic correctional facility is hardly a novel development - anybody who set foot inside a videoshop in the mid-to-late Nineties would have encountered myriad ex-rental copies of the Christopher Lambert vehicle Fortress - but with a dash of wit, it might have provided for appreciable pulp. Instead, we get bash-'em-out hack Steven C. Miller (Marauders, Southern Fury), who stages very ordinary, oddly cursory fisticuffs with no particular energy or compositional flair, and with the straightest of faces: when warden Titus Welliver whispers the notionally chilling "I'm the Zookeeper!", you just stifle a giggle and hit up YouTube to see whether the line made the trailer. (It did.) Of the film's theoretical selling points, Dave Bautista - a potentially heavyweight screen presence, as his droll contributions to last year's Bushwick and the Guardians of the Galaxy series have suggested - is almost entirely wasted as a PI stalking the fringes of this plot, while Sly pokes his head round the door every ten minutes to remind us he still believes this franchise is a viable concern going forwards. (His final words intend to prompt a third instalment literally no-one, save the star's accountants and legal team, needs to exist.) It is, in the end, one of those sequels for which the phrase caveat emptor was surely coined: even if you're in the market for a dog, it's always disappointing when you pay for a boxer, and wind up being sold a shitzu.

Escape Plan 2 opens in selected cinemas today, ahead of its DVD release on September 17. 

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