Ray Breslin (Stallone) literally wrote the book on high-security detention, and spends much of his time in prison to test security systems by breaking out. But when he’s sent to a new facility, he finds he’s been double-crossed and is really locked up – and has to team up with a fellow prisoner (Schwarzenegger) to escape...
This town is big enough for the both of them. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone had parallel careers, inevitably seeing them cast as muscle-men rivals even while they themselves maintained an apparently mutual respect. After all, the pair had largely distinct areas of influence: while Stallone built his career on Rocky, Rambo and crime dramas, Schwarzenegger had Terminator, Predator and self-skewering comic turns. And while they’ve shared the screen briefly in the last few years, this is the first time they’ve played off one another for an entire film. The good news is that they still have the power to dwarf everyone around them. The bad news is that Schwarzenegger gives the far better performance of the pair, and he’s in the supporting role.
With a twinkle in his eye and endless tricks up his sleeve, Schwarzenegger’s Emil Rottmayer is the charismatic engine that drives the movie, picking up the pace when Stallone threatens to drop off (at one point literally, when he’s sleep-deprived by sadistic guards). Rottmayer’s long-incarcerated con is insistent in befriending Stallone’s newly arrived Breslin, despite the latter’s surliness, and goes along with Breslin’s wilder schemes with a cheery enthusiasm that only lightly masks his underlying intelligence. The Governator pushes himself for the first time since his return to acting here, breaking into a German tirade and raving like a madman to further their escape attempts. Perhaps he enjoys the freedom of playing second banana; he certainly seems to be having more fun than Stallone, who grimly goes through the familiar motions of an overly drawn-out plot.
And it’s there that the film falls down, with every beat feeling overly familiar. There’s a vicious warden in Jim Caviezel, Vinnie Jones’ thuggish guard, a rat-fink traitor and antagonist-turned-ally. While an early attempt to escape the super-prison feels surprising – there’s some clever stuff with heat expansion physics – and the prison design poses pleasantly meaty challenges, it soon falls into the same old clichés, and a dreadfully played last scene literally has Stallone remark, “I didn’t see that coming” of a twist that every single audience member will have been on to from minute five. If this is how the pair’s first real face-off pans out, Stallone should ask for a rematch.
For a long stretch of the second act the film feels like doing a long stretch, but Schwarzenegger’s having a ball as Stallone goes through the motions.