Adventures In Celluloid

Film critic Dominic Corry celebrates, clarifies and justifies his love for all things film.

Dominic Corry: Checking in with Arnie

11 comments
Movie blogger and Arnie fan, Dominic Corry, laments his hero's new movie Escape Plan going straight to DVD in New Zealand.

Actor Arnold Schwarzenegger at the premiere of 'Escape Plan' in New York. Photo / AP
Actor Arnold Schwarzenegger at the premiere of 'Escape Plan' in New York. Photo / AP

It's been a whopping three and half months since I last talked about my hero Arnold Alois Schwarzenegger in this space, so I thought it was high time we checked in on his latest shenanigans.

Along with every other die hard Kiwi Arnie fan, I was crestfallen when it emerged recently that his latest film Escape Plan would be going straight to DVD in New Zealand. That's two Arnie movies in a row that have failed to see the inside of a movie theatre in this country.

I'm in Paris at the moment for a French film press junket (this woman was extremely nice), so when I saw that Escape Plan was playing here, I set aside Francois Ozon and Catherine Deneuve for the moment, and snuck off to a local multiplex to see the film - which is named Evasion in France.

Luckily, there was a 'Version Originale' showing near me (in English with French subtitles), so I didn't have to rely upon my flimsy grasp of the French language to get me through a dubbed version of the movie. More importantly, I wouldn't be denied the chance to hear Arnold's dulcet tones.

As a kid who grew up worshipping at the feet of the Austrian Oak, it was tough enough trying to process his move into politics - seeing him take a second position to one-time rival Sylvester Stallone in The Expendables 2 only further traumatised me.

That second-string status has extended into Escape Plan - another Sylvester Stallone vehicle in which Arnold plays a larger role than he did in the Expendables sequel, but remains lower in the film's hierarchy than Sly.

Now I'm no Sly hater, but he'll always be the Pepsi to Arnie's Coke in my eyes. So this reversal of their fortunes continually perturbs me.

Stallone plays Ray Breslin, a lawyer who became a prison expert (for hilarious reasons) then literally wrote the book on maximum security penitentiaries. For reasons that challenge even the simplest understanding of the economics of the modern prison system, the US government pays him millions upon millions of dollars to go undercover into their most secure jails to see if he can break out.

Breslin's latest assignment comes from the CIA, who demand that he remain unaware of the location of the prison in question. Which means he can't get any assistance from his outside helpers, played by Amy Ryan and Curtis '50 Cent' Jackson (who somehow manages to be even more terrible here than he is in every other movie).

Once he's inside the mysterious prison known as 'The Tomb' (the film's original title), Breslin realises he's been double-crossed. The "ruthless" warden (played with very little menace by The Passion of The Christ's Jim Caviezel) has constructed The Tomb around Breslin's theories about prisons, so the escape artist has his worked cut-out for him in his attempts not only to get out, but also to determine where in the world he is.

His only course of action is to team up with The Tomb's resident Alpha Dog - a crusty, bearded b****** with secrets of his own, played by my boy Arnie.

Now I have pretty low standards when it comes to modern action movies - I appreciate anyone trying to keep the form alive in a cinematic era defined by family-friendly blockbusters. But Escape Plan is a serious turd.

I mentioned in my last piece about Arnie that I was surprised by the relatively high quality of his acting in his most recent film, The Last Stand. In Escape Plan, he is back to to the crummy Expendables 2/Raw Deal level of Arnie acting. If 50 Cent wasn't in the film, he'd be the worst actor present.

This aspect of Arnie's post-politics career - acting skills that vary wildly from film to film - is highly troubling, and I can only surmise that it's down to the ability of each film's director to draw a decent performance out of Schwarzenegger. In this case, Swedish director Mikael Hafstrom has failed Arnie - and by extension, me - completely.

Unlike in the frenetic and episodic Expendables 2, there was an opportunity here to bounce Arnie and Sly off each other in reasonably interesting ways. There are all sorts of cool things you could with two action icons stuck together in an enclosed space - but the film is not interested in exploring them. All we get is clunky one-liners that can't hold a candle to either man's past glories.

The film pretty much never makes even the remotest amount of sense, and it reeks of last minute script revisions and editing room story upheaval.

For all the emphasis placed on The Tomb itself, it is a superlatively generic set that looks like little more than an abandoned warehouse. How anyone thought this would come across as the world's most inescapable prison is positively unfathomable.

The film delights in teasing its biggest "secret" (where The Tomb is located), but the concept is borrowed wholesale from another widely-seen action movie, utterly neutering the revelation. Once it is revealed, it stands as the most nonsensical notion in a film comprised entirely of nonsense.

Did I mention Sam Neill appears? Not even the calming presence of New Zealand's James Mason can class this folly up.

I'm glad I got to see this in a theatre (heck, I'd watch Hercules Goes Bananas in a theatre), but I don't think anyone's really missing out by this going straight to DVD in New Zealand.

What's more troubling is how it undermines the great work seen in The Last Stand, which I still strongly urge you to see if you haven't.

Escape Plan seems to demonstrate that Arnie now appears to lack either the power or the discernment in his film choices that led to all those classics in the late '80s and early '90s. I am concerned my favourite Austrian is on his way to Steven Seagaltown or Jean-Claude Van Dammeville. Or even worse, The Island of Bruce Willis.

The trailer for his next film Sabotage has been released. And it looks alright. Any film that takes inspiration from Agatha Christie is going to get me onboard ahead of time.

But with the highs of The Last Stand and now the lows of Escape Plan, it is truly a tumultuous time to be a devout Arnie fan.

* Arnie fan? Were you amped to see Escape Plan in a movie theatre? How do you feel about how his career's going? Comment below!

Have your say

We aim to have healthy debate. But we won't publish comments that abuse others. View commenting guidelines.

1200 characters left

Sort by
  • Oldest

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_a4 at 23 Sep 2014 16:07:32 Processing Time: 386ms