Sly Stallone stars as a man who set up his own security company that revolves around him being sent into prisons and finding all their flaws and possible escape plans, and then sending his report to them. He’s even written a successful book on the subject. One day a woman shows up to Stallone’s HQ with a high-paying offer for Sly and his cohorts (Amy Ryan, Curtis ‘50 Cent’ Jackson, and Vincent D’Onofrio) to venture into a privately-funded super-secure facility housing all of the worst and most hardened criminals in one place. The prison isn’t ‘official’ yet (i.e. it’s illegal), and yet somehow the deal is accepted. However, before Stallone gets there, he’s knocked out by some thugs, and wakes up inside the prison. It appears something has gone awry, he’s been screwed over and looks set to rot in this prison, overseen by whiny warden Jim Caviezel, and his band of brutal, masked guards (One of whom is played by Vinnie Jones). Undeterred, Stallone does his best to find a flaw in the system and make his escape, and receives some help from old-timer prisoner Emil Rottmayer (Arnold Schwarzenegger). Sam Neill plays the prison doctor, whom Stallone pegs for a man with a conscience who might just be able to help him get out. But then he learns something about the prison itself…and that’s all you’re getting out of me on that.
Unless you count the superior “The Expendables 2”, the teaming of Sly Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger hasn’t produced any better results than their individual efforts of late (“Bullet to the Head”, “The Last Stand”). This 2013 prison film from director Mikael Hafstrom (the rather scary Stephen King flick “1408”) is a decent-yet-unmemorable trip down memory lane from the 80s/90s action titans. The main problem here is that it’s not an action film, it’s a prison escape film, and thus it’s trying to evoke nostalgia for a kind of film that it really isn’t an example of itself. It doesn’t allow its stars to really play to their strengths as action movie icons, and thus it can’t help but be just as disappointing as the two stars individual efforts of 2013 (Though at least “The Last Stand” and particularly “Bullet to the Head” can claim to be somewhat in the action genre). There’s nothing wrong with these guys individually making different sorts of films, but why waste an Arnold-Sly teaming on something that doesn’t quite see them at their best advantage? There’s certainly very little action in it, just one mock prison fight, a fight between Sly and Vinnie Jones that ends before it even gets to be fun, and some gunfire at the climax, so it’ll disappoint anyone looking for 80s action goodness above all else.
It’s certainly not a faulty premise in and of itself (it’s like a prison version of “Sneakers”), you could see a low-rent version of this starring say Steven Seagal paired with Christopher Lambert or Rutger Hauer or something. Hell, I’d cast Kurt Russell and either Ving Rhames or Samuel L. Jackson, as the above names probably suggest something action-oriented too. But with Arnold and Sly? You expect something more muscular, though it must be said that Arnold’s looking a bit tired and haggard these days (Being old tends to do that, I guess) and it’s also a film that expects you to believe 50 Cent as a guy who knows how to turn a computer on, perhaps the most jarring thing of all (Well, except the fact that it comes from a company best known for releasing a bunch of crappy tweener vampire romances).
It’s not a bad film by any means, just an awkward and underwhelming one for its stars, and Jim ‘Jesus’ Caviezel is a totally unsatisfactory villain. I’ve always been of the belief that you need the right villain to go up against the hero/es, and Caviezel is in no way a match for Stallone and Schwarzenegger. He’s like putting Timothy Olyphant in “Die Hard 4.0”, except at least Olyphant could be (and has been) a legitimate dangerous threat elsewhere. But a thirty-ish computer hacker against Bruce Freakin’ Willis? I don’t think so. Caviezel similarly has the wrong vibe about him, but even worse, he simply isn’t menacing, scary, or in any way threatening, not to anyone let alone Rambo and John Matrix. Co-star Vinnie Jones would’ve been a much better choice, that guy legitimately scares the fuck out of me (They honestly let that guy play football? Wow). Or better yet, dig up an 80s bad guy specialist to make it a true throwback: Michael Ironside, Clancy Brown, Rutger Hauer, Powers Boothe, Robert Davi, or even Brian Thompson (who at least has tangled with both stars before in “Cobra” and “The Terminator”). I’m certainly shocked Robert LaSardo doesn’t appear here somewhere, he always turns up in prison movies somewhere. But Caviezel as the chief villain?…Isn’t he a TV actor these days anyway? Well, he’s the least threatening prison warden since another TV guy tackled such a role, “G.P.” actor Michael Craig in the trashy Australian flick “Turkey Shoot”. Having said that, I guess it’s kind of amusing to think we have Rambo, The Terminator, 50 Cent, Vinnie Jones, ‘Gomer Pyle’, and Jesus all in the one film. Meanwhile, if screenwriters Miles Chapman and Arnell Jesko (really Jason Keller rearranging his name for whatever reason) thought they had devised a clever surprise villain, director Hafstrom and the actor in question (someone known for being distractingly mannered at times) ruin the surprise from the actor’s very first scene. Whoops, though at least the revelation isn’t kept for the 11th hour, that’d be a crushing disappointment, instead we get the reveal about an hour in. There is one twist in the film that I don’t think anyone could foresee, and although I commend the screenwriters for coming up with a doozy, I’m not entirely certain how plausible it is that no one had previously worked out what was going on there. I think it would’ve been better if we were clued into that from the get-go instead of making it a twist.
The funny thing about the film is that although Stallone and Arnold aren’t the best fit here (especially when you find out Stallone’s former job. This is a guy who can barely speak English and clearly uses HGH), they’re still the best thing about the film. It’s just that if other, less action-oriented stars were cast in those roles, the film would play so much better. It’s through sheer screen presence and charisma that Sly and Arnold entertain here, not through actually being good in their roles. It’s interesting that Arnold takes a clear backseat to Sly in this, maybe he doesn’t want to overexpose himself before we get the full Ah-nold in the next “Terminator” film. The best part of the film is undoubtedly the climax, with Arnold acquiring a big f’n gun, and although ridiculous, it’s the only fun action set-piece in the film. Vinnie Jones is always game, but unfortunately he and the other prison guards are decked in black and wear dopey department store mannequin-like black masks throughout. Why? ‘Coz the director thinks it’s cool. It’s not cool and it completely neuters Jones. Sam Neill is here, and there’s probably a helluva fascinating reason why. He looks like he was coerced into appearing in the film, possibly water boarded. And his character is apparently the worst doctor in the world, because he actually has to look up the Hippocratic oath online. Either he’s a moron, or seriously mentally impaired, either way I wouldn’t let him prescribe me a fucking Panadol.
A better prison-set film than “Turkey Shoot”, “Lock Up”, and “The Rock”, and it features two undeniable action movie icons. But misusing those icons in a film that isn’t a good fit for them, Caviezel’s major miscasting, and a few screenplay faults prevent this film from being anything more than watchable.