“I’m Paul Barlow, and this is my daughter Jo.”

“Malone.”

“You got a first name?”

“Yeah.”

Escape Plan 2: Hades

When I heard they were making an ESCAPE PLAN 2 I couldn’t believe it. If you read my review of the first one you can see that right at the beginning I worried it might be “the last gasp for straight ahead R-rated theatrically released movies from the ’80s action icons.” I was a major proponent of the Old Man Schwarzenegger and Stallone movies and disappointed that they kept flopping. I even saw MAGGIE in a theater somehow (there were three other people there, if I remember right) and I suspect I’ve recommended BULLET TO THE HEAD to more people than any other human being. I liked that one better, but that’s okay – ESCAPE PLAN was a solid genre piece with standard Stallone and Schwarzenegger getting to be funny and some goofiness and weirdness for flavoring. Not the best or worst thing either of these icons have done. A pretty good one. I want to keep seeing old fashioned action star vehicles like that, but these days the world is treating them like VHS. Or maybe Betamax. Or America Online CD-ROMs.

So I was grateful for whatever miracle of international co-financing gave us the possibility of an ESCAPE PLAN franchise. And okay, so it’s too bad Arnold isn’t in this one, but Dave Bautista (WRONG SIDE OF TOWN)? I’ll take Dave Bautista. And then wait a minute, they’re not releasing it in theaters? I guess I could understand it. Still could be good.

But pretty recently I saw another trailer and I noticed wait a minute, this is kind of weird, they say STALLONE and they say BAUTISTA but it kind of looks like it’s mostly about this character played by a Chinese actor whose name they don’t even say.

And sure enough this points to a big problem I had with ESCAPE PLAN 2: HADES, which came out on disc and VOD on Friday. Yeah, they’ll put Stallone’s name and face giant on the cover, but he’s not the main character. This is not a full movie role for him, and the people who fill in the gaps are not exactly Adonis Creed.

Stallone plays prison escape expert Ray Breslin, head of Breslin Security. He is not in the opening scene. Instead it is some very DTV business about terrorists and hostages and a rescue attempt by a team of Ray’s new employees hired since the first one. Except for 50 Cent returning as computer expert Hush, who they talk to after the mission goes south. Everybody blames Kimbral (Wes Chatham, THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN) for the hostage being shot because he spent 40 extra seconds blowing up some weapons, which he thought would be okay because “The algorithm was solid!” We don’t get a chance to find out how the hell he does such calculations in the field, since Ray fires him. “Someone died ’cause you trusted a computer more than your own team.”

To his credit, Stallone is good in the firing scene. It seems like he’s probly done it before. But also he must’ve really been able to focus on doing a good job in that part since he’s barely in the first half of the movie. Instead it centers on his employee Shu (Huang Xiaoming, IP MAN 2, THE GUILLOTINES), who gets attacked while protecting his tech genius cousin Yusheng (Chen Tang, LET’S BE COPS) and wakes up in a dystopian prison called H.A.D.E.S. It’s allegedly made by people who also made The Tomb, the one Ray escaped from in part 1, and weirdly enough Kimbral is also a prisoner in there. And if there is a very obvious twist that they will take more than 50 minutes to getting around to revealing I can’t imagine what it would be.

HADES looks more like the set of a ’70s sci fi movie than a prison. The uniforms look like gis, there are plain walls and neon lights and an eerily bland computer voice named Galileo (Mike McColl) that tells you (by number, not name) to report to the Zoo for battle and then you fight another inmate and the winner gets to spend time in “The Sanctuary,” which is just a small room with a screen that badly mimics the outdoors. The warden type guy is called “The Zookeeper” but they oughta just let him use his real name, ’cause it’s Gregor Faust (Titus Welliver, THE DAY LINCOLN WAS SHOT).

Unlike the first one there’s not much of the prison movie tropes – no gangs, and not very many characters established in the prison other than three weird bald guys (credited as Larry, Moe and Curly and played by Shea Buckner [GOTTI], Tyler Jon Olson [also GOTTI] and Vincent Young [Bevery Hills 90210]) who are computer experts and don’t speak other than to occasionally say “We are legion” simultaneously. Which is a good touch, I guess. I support their inclusion.

On the outside Ray is in the office with some employees trying to figure out a way to rescue Shu. There are phone calls, people typing things into computers, you name it. All the exciting stuff. Although Stallone is not on screen for much of this section he does have a dual role – in addition to Ray he plays Shu’s intuition. It’s basically just Stallone reciting wise platitudes about how to escape, reminding me of Ghost Dog reading passages from the Hakagure, but in an earlier scene Shu said “I guess that’s why I hear your voice in my head when I am on the job” and Ray said, “It may sound like me but I think that voice is your intuition.”

Bautista plays Derosa, an old friend and colleague who’s hired to help. He’s in the movie even less than Stallone, not having his first scene until 28 minutes in, and his second 44 minutes in. Of course, Bautista brightens any movie he’s in, and he has a particularly good moment where he intimidates a guy by casually solving a Rubik’s Cube while talking to him. (It turns out that “Bug,” the nerdy guy he’s trying to scare, is played by Pete Wentz of the band Fall Out Boy.)

I gotta tell you, I initially only watched the first half of this movie and I hated it. I’m used to cheap shots from action stars, of course. Seagal had movies like AGAINST THE DARK where he clearly filmed for a day or two and tries to pass it off as the starring role, or SNIPER: SPECIAL OPS where he clearly built the whole movie around ways for him to be able to sit down and not work with any other actors. But this is the first time I’ve seen Stallone pulling a “how much do I have to do for it to count as my movie.” Or Bautista. He started in DTV but since his success with GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY his DTV work has mostly been prestigious roles like Tong Po in KICKBOXER: VENGEANCE.

When I came back to it a week or two later and started over it wasn’t as bad as I thought the first time. But not too much better. Huang’s thickly accented dialogue is fine but he doesn’t have a whole lot of screen presence and if his martial arts skills are legit he doesn’t get a good enough showcase to be impressive here. The forced combat is never exciting not just because it’s shot fairly close up with an annoying shaky effect (done in post, I think) and in the same plain location every time, but because you never really know the characters or the stakes because who gives a shit who gets to go to the green screen room for an hour? Nobody. So apologies to stunt coordinator James Lew, who I respect because he was a bad guy in AMERICAN NINJA 5 and BALANCE OF POWER.

Eventually Ray does become a more important character and he gets brought to HADES. When he gets abducted he gets one punch in and when he’s forced to fight in prison he just cowers while like 25 people pound on him. He has another fight scene later where you almost never see his face.

It gets a little more exciting when they’re planning the escape and then a little less when you realize it mainly just involves Derosa driving a truck through a wall and then shooting a bunch of guards (who are never seen in the same shot with him).

Director Steven C. Miller has done EXTRACTION, MARAUDERS and FIRST KILL with Bruce and ARSENAL with Nicolas Cage. I thought he might do good because I liked SILENT NIGHT, his loose remake or sequel or whatever of SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT. The screenplay is by Miles Chapman, who wrote the first ESCAPE PLAN as well as ROAD HOUSE 2: LAST CALL. He also wrote the already-shot part 3 that this one teases at the end, directed by John Herzfeld (2 DAYS IN THE VALLEY, 15 MINUTES, BOBBY Z). The score by Newton Brothers (HIJACKED, SEE NO EVIL 2, GERALD’S GAME) has some good synthy stuff in it.

I wish I could say this was pretty good. There definitely are worse, but it’s not on the level of disposable fun of, say, the DEATH RACE sequels. It’s not just that it has less Stallone – his character offers less. He gives fortune cookie lines about teamwork instead of expertise. The prison gimmicks aren’t as fun. The escape isn’t as elaborate. There isn’t as much humor. There aren’t many surprises. It’s just less, without much new to make up for it.

And I know I’ll still watch part 3.

thanks to Franchise Fred for hooking me up with the publicist for this one – he disagrees with me by the way

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, July 3rd, 2018 at 12:48 pm and is filed under Action, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

16 Responses to “Escape Plan 2: Hades”

  1. Interesting. I guess it is a matter of expectations. I sort of suspected it was going to be Stallone mentoring new guys, so I was impressed how many scenes he still participated in on the outside, including some fight scenes with Bautista.

    And maybe the screener is more forgiving but it seemed to have relatively high production value. I assumed it was Millennium but turns out it’s Grindstone. Since there’s no chance I’ll see it on the big screen, we’ll never know if it holds up.

    I agree, the green screen/holodeck time was dumb.

    Anyway, I’m glad you were able to connect with the publicist. Hopefully they’ll have some better DTV in the future.

  2. I watched this on VOD right away because I liked the first one and thought this had a great DTV action movie cast — Stallone, Bautista, Titus Welliver, Wes Chatham (who I only know from the TV show ‘The Expanse,’ where he is fantastic and plays the best character), and I’d never heard of Ziaoming Huang but imdb says he’s best known for an Ip Man movie, and I was down for some martial arts action, if that’s the kind of element you need to get international co-financing, cool.

    But I thought this was garbage, all the way through. Stallone and Bautista’s involvement is limited, the actual ‘escape plan’ isn’t clever or interesting, there’s no fun if cliched about navigating prison life or politics, and the little the fighting there is is boring as hell and terribly shot. There’s really nothing to recommend about this movie. Everything that you’d want out of an action movie about escaping a prison, even a DTV one, is absent. This was a total waste of time.

  3. I guess nothing is more 80s VHS than a poster that beefs up the smallish part of some well known actor?

  4. This is getting a theatrical release here in Singapore this weekend. So sad to hear it sucks.

  5. I saw Black Water. It was alright. Dolph is not in it much but he is great as always. I really think we need an actual proper Dolph/Van Damme team up movie. So I don’t really recommend it but you won’t hate it either.

  6. david j. moore

    July 3rd, 2018 at 3:43 pm

    This was worse than FORTRESS 2: RE-ENTRY. Just…
    yeah.

  7. Ouch. Staying away from this.

  8. The Undefeated Gaul

    July 4th, 2018 at 12:57 am

    I did the same thing, quit after half an hour as it’s pretty close to unwatchable garbage – I’m just not going back. I guess Stallone and Bautista were paid well for their couple days on set but it’s still incredibly sad to see them used like this.

  9. he has a particularly good moment where he intimidates a guy by casually solving a Rubik’s Cube while talking to him

    Chameleon Street pulled that one in — ’89?
    Not quite a 30 year old gag, so I guess it’s usable.

    Now, if he would have intimidated a guy by whistling a merry tune like Paul Muni in Scarface…

  10. It’s ironic that Stallone once called out Bruce Willis for being “lazy” and “greedy” when he demanded something like $4 million for four day’s work on “Expendables 3,” which was obviously the kind of setup Bruce was getting used to with these straight-to-VOD projects, while for “Escape Plan 2” Sly worked with the same director responsible for a lot of Bruce’s output in this area. And as with the typical Bruce VOD flick, Sly seems to spend most of the first two acts in some office giving orders to people, before getting into the action more in the third act. Hopefully after “Escape Plan 3,” Sly doesn’t get seduced like Bruce did by the light shooting schedules and fat paychecks these things offer.

    As a side note, while Steven Miller’s films usually look pretty polished for lower-budget VOD fare, “Escape Plan 2” has got to have some of the worst-staged action scenes I’ve seen in a while. A lot of the time I had no idea what was going on or who was fighting who. It’s like he was in coma the last few years and slept through “The Raid”/”John Wick”/most Scott Adkins films and still thinks we are in a “Bourne” action landscape.

  11. So weird to think of guys like Stallone, Bruce, Cage and even DeNiro being in DTV movies, especially since it doesn’t work the way it used to, where you’re sent to DTV jail and have to stay there.

    No, these guys can flip flop back and forth, heck, Bruce just had the theatrical DEATH WISH movie earlier this year.

  12. I didn’t think much of Bruce’s DEATH WISH movie.

    When is TRIPLE THREAT coming out?

  13. I got all excited when I saw this come up on my Amazon Prime list for rent. I rented it, started to watch it and turned it off about 30 minutes in.

    Yeah, I’m going to go ahead and let my rental duration expire.

  14. Guys, life’s to short to talk about this movie. This is a movie we need in our life instead.

    Buybust

    [visual-parse url=”https://youtu.be/0lTt2GGLNyM”.

  15. Look it up since the link won’t work.

  16. Griff: It probably helps Bruce when he does films like MOONRISE KINGDOM or LOOPER, that kind of refueled his indie cred besides the fact they were two really good performances.

    It’ll probably never happen, but I really think Bruce should go back to television. He’s not as in need of it as some guys have been before, but with maybe the right material to engage him for months at a time on a yearly basis he can get his mojo back.

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