Terminator: Dark Fate

Release: Friday, November 1, 2019

→On Demand 

Written by: David Goyer; Justin Rhodes; Billy Ray

Directed by: Tim Miller

Terminator: Dark Fate is the best installment in the series since Judgment Day and it’s not even close. That said, having never been a die-hard I have gotten along pretty well with most* of the sequels, even the mind-bendingly-complex-and-not-in-a-good-way Terminator Genisys, so what do I know?

One thing I know is that this movie was fated to be poorly received. Faith in this once glorious franchise has been steadily eroding ever since we entered the 2000s. In 2019, oh how the mighty have fallen: In America Dark Fate basically flat-lined, barely recouping a quarter of its $185 million budget. Losses for the studios involved topped $130 million. That’s even more damning considering it is directed by the guy who made Deadpool. It seems this female-led retcon of one of the most convoluted storylines in franchise filmmaking history** was destined to become the next Terminator film to disappoint. The question was whether it would disappoint in the same way or if it would mix things up by being disappointing in other areas.

Dark Fate, in fact, does neither. Director Tim Miller and his writing team create a solid action movie underpinned by relevant themes and bolstered by the welcomed return of original characters plus a few memorable new ones. James Cameron also resurfaces as producer, ensuring fidelity to not just the general formula that brought tremendous fame to the doorstep of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Linda Hamilton, but specifically to  style and tonality. Bitter and violent but with a streak of humor persisting through all the hardscrabble survival shit (mostly at the expense of Arnie, but hey it’s welcomed), the story is stripped down and actually coherent. The action is visceral and the acting frequently intense.

Twenty-five years after Sarah Connor thwarted Judgment Day, and the future is repeating itself anyway. The details are almost a matter of semantics; instead of Skynet, there is now Legion. Somewhere along the line, someone screwed up. Artificial intelligence gained the upper hand. The machines have once again sent back in time a representative to crush a human uprising before it can even begin. This upgraded model of terminator called the Rev-9, besides sounding like a new line of Mazda sport car, makes the T-1000 obsolete. He is played coolly (and cold-bloodedly) by Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.‘s Ghost Rider Gabriel Luna. His mission is to track down and eliminate the de facto new John Connor — a teenage girl named Dani Ramos (Natalia Reyes) who lives an unassuming life as a factory worker in Mexico City.

This is of course the part where you’re expecting Arnie’s T-800 to drop out of thin air to protect the girl, kick some robot ass and maybe disappear from whence he came (or into a vat of liquid metal). But like with the androids we carry around in our pockets some updates are more significant than others. Arnie is indeed back, not with a vengeance but rather a conscience. Filling in his old shoes is a hybrid of human and terminator not-so-subtly named Grace (Mackenzie Davis). She has also been sent back to convince Dani of her role in the human resistance while also contending with unexpected roadblocks, such as Sarah Connor and her own beliefs in fate.

No, this movie does not throw heavy punches of originality. Signature one-liners, even when delivered by the legendary Linda Hamilton, feel like hand-me-downs rather than organic reactions. It’s not like this latest chapter doesn’t do anything to set itself apart. Dark Fate carries some heavy emotional baggage and the script occasionally hits some poignant notes as its leading trio of women confront loss and grief. That weight is mostly shouldered by the older and wiser Sarah Connor and her complicated relationship with the T-800 but it’s also a pain shared by all involved, whether that’s Dani receiving a brutal crash course in terminator-human relationships or Grace recounting her experiences of surviving the apocalypse through flashback.

Retreading old footsteps does not make a movie bad however. It’s when directors and producers forsake the spirit of the original in an attempt to chart a new course that often leads to trouble. Dark Fate is made with an obvious reverence for Cameron’s seminal sequel. I consider its familiarity a strength. And if indeed it is the last hurrah (and it sure looks that way) I would also consider it an homage to greatness. If given a choice between a safe and familiar package and a narrative so convoluted you don’t even care where or when you are on the timeline, I will always choose the former.

* all except salvation. nope, can’t do it. it’s bad when a movie’s best scene is that artfully edited together clip of Christian Bale going berserk on set 
** DARK FATE, in acting AS A DIRECT SEQUEL TO JUDGMENT DAY, BOLDLY — AND WISELY — ERASES EVERYTHING THAT HAS HAPPENED SINCE 1991, EXcepT THE AFOREMENTIONED and iconic meltdown 

Two headaches for the price of a not-even-wanted one

Recommendation: I think the mileage you get out of this one really depends on whether you think the homage is unwarranted or if it is kinda cool. Or, indeed, if you even view it as an homage. Genisys was, by comparison, a regrettable reboot of the series with a young Sarah Connor and it technically introduced the dad-joke-making Terminator, so you can’t go around blaming Dark Fate for that. This movie undoes all of that stuff, all the way back to Rise of the Machines. I think it is a big shame there will be no future installments as I really enjoyed this cast and seeing Hamilton back in action was really satisfying. 

Rated: R

Running Time: 128 mins.

Quoted: “Do you believe in fate, Sarah? Or do you believe we can all change the future every second by every choice that we make? You chose to change the future. You chose to destroy Skynet. You set me free. Now, I’m going to help you protect the girl, because I chose to.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited. 

Photo credits: IMP Awards; IMDb 

Decades Blogathon — The Running Man (1987)

Welcome to Day 2 in the third annual Decades Blogathon! If you missed out on the inaugural day’s activities, be sure to check the Recent Posts list here on this blog (right hand column) and on Three Rows Back

Once again, Mark and I are running an event in which bloggers discuss a film of their choice that was released in a year ending in a ‘7,’ as we are currently in 2017. Today I would like to introduce another Mark, the one and only Mark of Movie Man Jackson. He’s back again to discuss one of those ultra-Arnie violent movies from the 1980s, in this case, The Running Man


It’s 2017, and we are only two years away from this. 2017 has seen America become a terrible place. After an economic collapse, government has stepped up to suppress all individual rights and freedoms. Civilians are placated by a TV show that showcases convicted criminals fight for their lives in exchange for potential freedom. This show, known as The Running Man, is an ultraviolent hit and brings in massive ratings, spearheaded by its energetic host Damon Killian (Richard Dawson). But, those ratings have plateaued.

Now 2019, helicopter pilot Ben Richards (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is wrongly painted as a mass murderer during a food riot, and promptly sent to prison. Though able to escape, he is eventually arrested. He’s given two choices: Go back into prison, presumably for life, or fight for freedom on The Running Man. Reluctant, Ben chooses to fight, where he will have to deal with gladiatorial-esque stalkers with names like “Dynamo,” “Subzero,” “Buzzsaw,” and “Fireball.” Each is hell-bent on not letting a “runner” like Ben beat them at their own game.

There are a couple of things that immediately pop into my mind as I think about the 1980’s. Big hair is one of them. The epidemics of AIDS and crack cocaine is another. Movie-wise, I think of “The Governor.” Arnold Schwarzenegger and the 80’s go together like Montana/Rice and Crockett/Tubbs, appearing in Hollywood action staples that need no listing. One less popular one that peak Arnold starred in was 1987’s The Running Man, and it is a lesser movie when held in comparison to The TerminatorCommandoConan the Barbarian, and Predator. But, as a relative 80’s popcorn actioner, it qualifies as solid entertainment, and a clear inspiration for future films like Battle RoyaleThe Condemned, and of course, The Hunger Games.

There’s a reason the word relative is used. The Running Man, loosely adapted from Richard Backman’s (aka Stephen King) novel, does touch on—maybe even foreshadowed—themes and ideas still relevant today. The oft brainless and shock reality television of 2017 isn’t all that far off from what’s depicted in director Paul Michael Glaser’s (Starsky in the famous television show) feature. An appetite for violence can be loosely paralleled to the football and MMA fighting that some fans view religiously. Perhaps the best implemented idea showcased by the movie is how editing can tell the story in a specific fashion. This isn’t a novel idea, especially in this digital day and age, but a person could see it being eye-opening during this movie’s release.

It’s nice stuff, but, The Running Man does feel like it wants to really be a film that a person truly gives deep deep thought towards when in actually it isn’t quite to that intellectual and thought provoking level. Most of these ideas are introduced in the first 30-40 minutes at a surface level, and never go beyond this. Maybe Arnie was on to something about Glaser being “…out of his depth…” Part of it is due to the presentation. Hard to be taken very seriously when villains are given names like Subzero, Fireball, Buzzsaw, and Dynamo, with the latter seemingly outfitted with dopey Lite Brite pegs and singing opera as he zaps people.

It benefits science fictions films to be sometimes looked at in a vacuum with the absence of superior effects that today’s cinema world has. However, many older sci-fi films have more or less stood the test of time. The Running Man, from a technical standpoint, isn’t one of those films, with the animations and major special effects looking on par with, if not worse than, an average 90’s cartoon. And for being set in the future, most everything lacks from a creativity perspective; the technology especially isn’t that much different from what was being used in the decade. At least Harold Faltermeyer is there to provide the 80’s signature synth sounds in the score.

So, some of The Running Man is shoddy. But, it still has the charisma of “Ahnold” to bank on. His inherent likability and action prowess is used to make Richards a person to root for, even while spouting one-liners that are hit-and-miss and super corny. To paraphrase a random elderly lady in the movie, “[Ben Richards] is one mean motherf***er.” Opposing him is none other than Richard Dawson, the original Family Feud host who parodies his old persona here, doing a complete 180 as Damon Killian. He’s a real gem throughout. Everyone else is pretty forgettable, from the two Arnold sidekicks in Marvin J. McIntyre and Yaphet Kotto, to the eye candy and obvious love interest in Maria Conchita Alonso. Brief hammy roles are present by WWE legend Jesse Ventura and NFL legend Jim Brown. They’re as 80’s as one can imagine.

On the strength of Schwarzenegger, Dawson, and a unique (for the time) if not particularly thorough story, The Running Man is cheesy fun worth catching on a rerun.


Photo credits: http://www.craveonline.com, http://www.imdb.com, http://www.joblo.com, and http://www.top10films.co.uk

Terminator Genisys

Release: Wednesday, July 1, 2015

[Theater]

Written by: Laeta Kalogridis; Patrick Lussier

Directed by: Alan Taylor

He’s back . . . but is he better?

Of course the answer to that one is pretty easy. Arnie himself admits it, deflecting by describing himself as “old but not obsolete” in key moments where the action lulls and the characters just have to say something. Terminator Genisys is not nearly the disaster its predecessor was but doesn’t that feel more like a kick to the metallic groin than anything else? Alan Taylor’s follow-up is more complicated than any cyborg’s internal structure, it’s frenetically paced and pretty long but it does make good on reintroducing the franchise’s iconic T-800 in his (now-creaky) glory, as well as providing some unexpected comic relief that plays on both the franchise’s longevity and Genisys‘ conceptual convolution.

This film, as much as it likes to tout the return of Arnie, is primarily concerned with the prevention of Judgment Day, as John Connor (Jason Clarke) leads the final charge against the machines amid the dire apocalyptic wasteland of the present-day established in Terminator Salvation. Seemingly having just watched X-Men: Days of Future Past, Connor believes humanity’s last hope is to send someone back in time to 1984 to kill Skynet before it becomes . . . you know, all corrupt and stuff. Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) volunteers for the mission, desperate to meet up with Sarah Connor (Khaleesi Emilia Clarke) who will be instrumental in the preventative attack. Naturally, all does not go according to plan as a cyborg in the “present” makes it known that no matter what kind of effort humans will put forth, Skynet will come out on top.

Genisys spends much of its time weaving together parallel timelines, one in which Kyle Reese has existed and another that is completely foreign to him. Given the narrative structure, it’d be a great idea to refresh yourself on your history. I didn’t, and my head hurt because of it. While the mission itself is relatively straightforward — prevent Genisys, a Google-esque “app” capable of syncing more than just your nifty devices, from coming into being (a countdown clock helps in pinpointing our position relative to the dreaded ultimatum) — the execution requires real brainwork. Genisys, more simply put, is the physical means through which Skynet would eventually spread globally in computer servers.

In some senses it’s refreshing to be in the company of a blockbuster that makes you think but there are so many throwbacks to the original and T-2 that sighing and giving up halfway through becomes inevitable when one too many fight sequences occur between the real T-800 and his digitized forms, not to mention a T-1000 reminiscent of Robert Patrick’s shape-shifter. There’s a distinct Jurassic World insipidness about the way in which the film can’t break free from the pre-established, and yet new twists abound, the details of which I won’t reveal in order to keep some of the confusion sacred for those wanting to stay in the dark. Needless to say . . . well, actually it isn’t needless but I’ll say it anyway: Matt Smith plays a role in Genisys‘ major deception.

What’s most impressive about Alan Taylor’s revisitation of these hallowed grounds is his ability to skirt around the events of the third and fourth installments. While it does use Salvation‘s final rally against Skynet as a launch pad for its intricate time traveling plot, Genisys feels more inspired by James Cameron’s world building. We quickly leave the present behind (the year is 2017 — I think) and join forces with a younger but less brash Sarah Connor and an aging T-800 who is trying to blend in more with society, at least according to Sarah. In Genisys everyone’s favorite Terminator is wittier, talkier, more conscious of those around him. The essence of the character remains in tact though a mainstream appeal has certainly been foisted upon him. It’s a credit to Schwarzenegger that his identity isn’t lost in the shuffle; he is still very much a good reason to see this film.

More difficult to embrace is Jai Courtney’s blank-slate Kyle Reese who is reminiscent of Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s soldier in Godzilla, for all intents and purposes an everyman slotted right in between two significant character arcs: Sarah’s relationship with the Terminator and with her son John, but ironically and unfortunately Courtney’s ill-equipped to carry the burden. His Reese won’t be any more, though probably not less, memorable than Anton Yelchin’s from 2009. And despite her best efforts Emilia Clarke doesn’t fare much better as the former-waitress-turned-gun-enthusiast. Together these steadily rising talents are meant to uphold Taylor’s vision of a world where humanity has its best chance of breaking Skynet’s brutal grip but they simply feel out of their depth in a story this large, especially when standing beside Schwarzenegger.

Of course, this is a franchise steeped in fascinating science fiction rather than award-winning performances. It’s getting old but it’s not quite obsolete. Not yet anyway. There’s plenty to enjoy for diehards. But with an emphasis on action and metal-on-metal showdowns it’ll prove challenging even for those viewers to juggle story and spectacle for two-plus hours. Taylor doesn’t have a good sense of pacing and seems far too eager to move on to the next set piece, which he’ll soon destroy for good measure. That becomes very problematic when dealing with timelines functioning in the present, past and future.

“Be quiet Arnie — Jai and I are trying to have chemistry.”

Recommendation: Alan Taylor manages to justify lengthening the Terminator saga, but barely. There’s a ton of narrative clutter in this film and it will leave a great many scratching their heads on their way out the door. But for simple pleasures, like seeing Arnie back in action, and crazy big explosions, the film delivers. There is a post-credits scene that nearly everyone in my screening missed out on by leaving too soon so be sure to stick around for that! 

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 125 mins.

Quoted: “I’ve been waiting for you.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

Maggie

Release: Friday, May 8, 2015

[iTunes]

Written by: John Scott III

Directed by: Henry Hobson

In defense of a very deliberately paced, melancholic film misleadingly billed as a thriller, Maggie serves as Arnold Schwarzenegger’s finest hour (and a half).

Of course, describing Arnie’s role here as the best thing he’s ever done may seem a relative compliment. There has been no shortage of instances in the past where he has invited parodical criticism without trying. Admittedly memorable, if not slightly comic phrases — most lasting no more than five words or so — have come to define the hulking Austrian and his career as an actor.

It’s just as understandable that many would automatically dismiss as fruitless any attempt he might make to go another direction; to not use his accent as a term of endearment or his muscular bulk, now slipping a bit in his older age, as a force to be reckoned with. When it comes to Henry Hobson’s directorial debut all that remains of the familiar Arnie is his larger-than-life physicality, but even that is somewhat tempered by Claire Breaux‘s suitably understated wardrobe selection.

Rather than obliging himself as some sort of perceived menace or spectacle he’s simply Wade Vogel, a father who must sit and watch as his only daughter succumbs to a deadly virus that converts the living into flesh-craving zombies. Broad shoulders slump; a tough face wrought with wrinkles brought on by wariness. A spirit broken by the knowledge that the ugliness of this apocalyptic event has hit home since Maggie was somewhere she should not have been.

Triumphing over the ubiquitousness of a zombie apocalypse is the love Wade has for his daughter (Abigail Breslin). The relationship is front-and-center, making the film steadily more challenging to endure. Maggie takes its time in tracking the virus as it takes hold of her, though the slow burn isn’t done any favors by the ‘thriller’ classification. There are as many thrills in Maggie as there are desperate pleas from Arnie for his family to get to a chopper. Still, where there isn’t much in the way of action and excitement there also isn’t really a place for it in this deeply personal examination of a family in crisis.

It almost goes without saying that Arnie’s young co-star delivers a heartrending performance as well. This isn’t quite as memorable a lead as her beauty pageant hopeful in Little Miss Sunshine, yet Maggie is a role she can be truly proud of. Breslin embraces a thoroughly challenging character arc, effecting a personality that’s easy to empathize with. Of course, she is a teenaged girl and this is the apocalypse, so who knows what she’d be like under different circumstances. That’s beside the point, though. Together, Breslin and Schwarzenegger make for a fantastic duo that instantly gives this story heft.

There is something to be said for Maggie‘s relentlessly bleak outlook. This isn’t a happy movie. A conclusion seen a mile away, there isn’t a great deal anyone (least of all Wade) can do except hope to be as prepared as possible when the illness takes over completely. A hauntingly beautiful score permeates deep, draped over many a scene like a dense fog, arguably contributing further to the sense of futility in fighting the inevitable.

Though the scene is a zombie outbreak, the allegory isn’t exactly hiding. Maggie’s torturous transition from human into something less than so — more accurately, Wade’s refusal to turn her over to the authorities, preferring to care for her as long as he can — undoubtedly reflects the strength of families afflicted by cancer and similarly devastating diseases. In that context especially, Schwarzenegger doesn’t seem to be the go-to guy. But he’s brilliant. He carries the burden of this tragedy so well it’s difficult to believe this was at one point (and soon to be again, apparently) the Terminator.

Recommendation: An emotionally devastating piece that doubles as a fascinating spin on the ever-popular zombie genre, Maggie isn’t for the casual watcher. This one takes a little determination, but the reward is watching Arnie transition from a physical to a true actor, and witnessing the chemistry he and the young and talented Abigail Breslin have together. That’s how I’d recommend the film: for great characters. I’d also recommend a couple tissues, they might come in handy. 

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 95 mins.

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

TBT: Jingle All the Way (1996)

new-tbt-logo

This particular usage of the former Mister Universe is so much fun I almost want to dedicate all TBT‘s this month to Arnie. Although I would simply love to analyze his endearing accent to death all month long, it is December after all and, let’s face it — I couldn’t really get away with not seeking out all movies mistletoe-y and Santa Clause-y. These films are all going to be movies that I flat-out love (though the critical score at the bottom may not always show it), and the goal here is to start with my “least” favorite-favorite, and move towards what I believe is the film that defines this particular season; coincidentally it’s one of my favorites ever made. Despite premature Christmas jingles being more annoying than having your prized action figure snatched out of your hands by some overzealous mail delivery dude, there’s nothing wrong with getting into the spirit of things early by diving headfirst into the season via movie reviews. . . right? I don’t think there is, anyway. And now that I’ve got that out of the way, IT’S TURBO TIME!!! 

Today’s food for thought: Jingle All the Way

Jingle-All-The-Way-PS

Release: November 22, 1996

[VHS]

Arnie and Sinbad team up to provide a holiday comedy that is nearly too silly for it’s own stockings. Both star as fathers turning to desperate measures to obtain their kids’ Christmas gifts, which just happen to be this year’s mega hot item. And yes, it may look like a fictitious rip-off of a Power Rangers action figure, the Turbo Man doll is actually the coolest, most awesome gift you could get your child this holiday season. Unfortunately, Arnie, as Howard Langston, always puts work before family and is consequently not involved in his son Jamie’s life too much. He has this one opportunity, though, to prove A) he’s not a completely absentee dad and B) that he can maybe even avoid divorce, as his relationship with wife Liz (Rita Wilson) isn’t exactly great either.

Sinbad plays a similarly desperate father. Myron has poor relationships with family too, and after spending all day determined to get a hold of this special Turbo Man doll, he insists that he and Howard are the same person deep down. More than Howard cares to admit. The two chuckleheads come across one another while waiting for stores to open on Christmas Day, because both have appropriately procrastinated in getting their precious doll until now. Surrounded by a mob of equally crazed shoppers, Howard and Myron start off exchanging pleasantries until it becomes clear to Howard that this guy might be mentally unstable.

It turns out not to be such an easy task, claiming one of these highly sought-after plastic toys. Situations slowly get out of hand as despair changes from the mob mentality to becoming a personal battle between Myron and Howard. While it’s difficult to say whether Myron and Howard’s relationship was really legit from the start, as the day progresses things get hilariously more hostile between the two.

jingle_all_the_way

I don’t recall Arnie starring in a Christmas-zombie film, but this looks spectacular.

Along the way they bump into some other caricatures that help set Jingle All the Way a few mistletoes apart from other Christmas comedies. I can’t go as far as saying there’s material in here that’s offensive, but a few moments — particularly the Santa showdown scene — offer up lines that adult viewers will find more comical than the film’s necessarily younger, less mature target audience, and more importantly, worthwhile sitting through this Christmas farce.

Fortunately, this is mostly “for the kitz,” as Howard would say in his thick Austrian accent. The movie’s slapstick humor conveniently and, for the most part, successfully diverts the viewer’s attention away from the fact that this movie skimps on character development, dialogue and story, and more towards just having a good time. Oh, what fun it is to ride in Howard’s SUV as he charges around the city finding someone who will sell him a little plastic action figure. And to also poke fun of all the ways in which selling Christmas is downright kitschy. Indeed, this is a film that oftentimes shows the dark side to what is otherwise perceived as the happiest, brightest time of the year.

jingle_all_the_way_fighting_dementor

Buzz Light-who? Sinbad as the Dementor is far more classic. . .

Naughty List:

  1. The Mall of America scene. Bad Arnie, don’t you know people generally frown upon grown men chasing children (who are not their own) through an indoor playground? The little kid may have the lottery number you need, but you’re lucky all you got was beaten by angry mothers and their purses.
  2. Feeding reindeer beer. Shame on you, Mr. Langston. That’s sick.
  3. Sinbad’s bomb in the mail trick. Sure, it was only grumpy Officer Hummell, but this particular gag might have been a bit overreaching, particular in light of recent national tragedies. Still, it was kind of funny at the time.
  4. Not showing up to your kid’s karate class graduation.
  5. Sinbad as the Dementor. What a bully. Was it just inevitable that he wound up symbolizing evil after all he and Howard go through together. . .? Methinks not.

Nice List:

  1. Justified violence as comedy. Fighting counterfeit toy-makers disguised as Santa Clause(s) was actually an act of self-defense and thereby justifiable. Otherwise, this would go on the Naughty List because who in their right mind would sucker-punch St. Nick?!
  2. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife. Literally. More justified violence in the form of hot coffee in the face may become necessary when your name is Ted and you’re knowingly making inappropriate advances on Howard’s wife.
  3. Howard eventually does offer an apology to Officer Hummell. . .dressed as Turbo Man.
  4. “. . .AND A ROCK-EM, SOCK-EM JETPACK!!!”
  5. Jamie gives the doll to it’s rightful (?) owner at the end, because he’s got the real Turbo Man at home!

jinglealltheway1.jpg

I’ll leave you with this.

3-0Recommendation: Kudos to director Brian Levant for trying to parody Christmas shopping and the stress it puts on people, even if it goes far and beyond reasonable at times. Jingle All the Way cannot be viewed as anything other than a silly 90-ish minutes to gather family around and watch Arnie get his over-sized body out of bizarre situations. One of my favorites from my childhood, I shamefully have not returned to this for years.

Rated: PG

Running Time: 88 mins.

Quoted: “Put that cookie down. NOW!”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.pinterest.com; http://www.imdb.com 

Escape Plan

escape_plan_ver3_xlg

Release: Friday, October 18, 2013

[Theater]

What do the Terminator, Jesus, Jurassic Park, 50 Cent and prison break all have in common? The answer: director Mikael Håfström’s beyond-ludicrous Escape Plan.

That may be the weirdest lead-in ever written, but ultimately it’s what you are going to pay for in this latest battle between Hollywood’s biggest brand name actors. Arnie and Sly team up as they try together to break out from the most highly-guarded and technologically advanced Chuck-E-Cheese (a.k.a. prison), with Sly being an expert at jailbreak — it’s sort of his career choice — and Schwarzenegger simply being the help from the inside Stallone will require to break out this time. If there is indeed a plot to this movie, that’s it and that’s as complicated as it gets, too, making the film open for big, dumb and entertaining fights and, not to mention, undoubtedly a whole lot of criticism.

As a sucker for Schwarzenegger schtick (can anyone NOT like the Austrian posed as the sheriff of a sleepy midwestern town, I mean come on!), and a moderate fan of Stallone’s, I have come to semi-defend this movie. But there’s only so much that can be said this time around. Needless to say, Escape Plan is unapologetically over-the-top and is far from taking itself seriously. The story is as loosely structured and simplistic in concept as possible to ensure that most attention and entertainment value is concentrated on the fight scenes, scenes which feature the big guys in even grayer and wrinklier form than when we last saw them. As per the usual formulas of Arnie/Stallone’s movies as of late, dialogue is equally dumbed down.

It was pretty easy to gather all this from trailers, though, so what exactly, if anything, does the Swedish director do here that makes his film appealing, worthy of your ticket purchase?

To be completely honest, there were only slivers of moments in this movie which felt original and which were truly worth seeing the film for, even if you’re only likely to catch it on DVD. (I don’t blame those who are going to pass right on over this, as the film doesn’t have much character.)

If you were to combine the popcorn-n-soda satisfaction of Arnie’s last movie, The Last Stand, with the dark and brooding atmosphere that Stallone likes to skulk about in for most of his (Bullet to the Head being the most recent example) what you would get is this product. Escape Plan, like its main characters, plays things extremely safe and does everything by the book.

A few introductions might help make this film make more sense to you, as well as it might clarify that opening sentence of this review. So. . .first things first. What’s Stallone’s beef this time? As it turns out, his Ray Breslin is one of the foremost authorities on safety standards as it pertains to prison securities. He’s written a book on the matter and has garnered respect for his ability to break out of any prison he’s ever been put into. He works in a tiny agency that is staffed by three others — Amy Ryan (The Office, Dan in Real Life), along with Curtis Jackson/50 Cent, work with Breslin under the supervision of Vincent D’Onofrio’s Lester Clark. (Horrible name, even worse performance.)

Breslin is informed of one last assignment he could take up; entering and then attempting to break out of a prison called “The Tomb,” a facility that is purportedly inescapable. This horrendous place is run by an evil man named Hobbes (played by THE Jim Caviezel from The Passion) who likes to refer to the inmates as “assets,” and who also speaks in quiet, menacing tones. Caviezel, it needs to be said, is actually pretty good in this film and his presence stacks up quite well against that of Stallone’s and Arnie’s.

Of course, when Breslin agrees to undertake this latest challenge. . .things go awry, and soon it becomes clear that his incarceration will be more permanent than anyone previously had hoped. His attempts to be tracked by his agency are quickly exposed and rebuffed by the brutal prison staff. His transportation methods are questionable at best, and seem to go differently than how Breslin had planned them to go. Has he finally taken a job that he can’t get himself out of?

Not before long Breslin comes across a similarly gargantuan, gray-haired man who introduces himself in a thick Austrian accent as Rottmayer. And, if you’re going to make friends in the joint, it may as well be with Mr. Universe, right? The usual tropes come into play as the two start drafting up a plan to bust out — each one sacrifices things for the benefit of the two of them, and so on and so forth — and these trials will inevitably come to involve the efforts of several other inmates along the way.

Reiterating: this by no means is a good film, but the enjoyment is derived purely from the comforts we find in the aging Schwarzenegger and Stallone, who still possess great on-screen chemistry. The affairs surrounding them are as buffoonish as ever, but this particular conceit serves them pretty well on a number of occasions. There are more than a few shamelessly dramatic reaction shots of Arnie and Stallone which caused uproarious laughter in my screening. I believe just this happening alone certifies this movie has done its job.

ESCAPE PLAN

3-0Recommendation: Plan on Escape Plan being the most generic plan ever. If you come in with the most tempered of expectations and an appreciation for supreme cheese, you’ll probably enjoy this movie. Although it does get off to a slow start, it’s exactly what you would expect once Stallone crash lands in what appears to be Schwarzenegger’s stomping grounds. There’s also a good bit of nostalgic value to be had here as well, for any who have been long-time followers of these legendary action stars. 

Rated: R

Running Time: 116 mins.

Quoted: “You hit like a vegetarian!”

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