The 2013 Sylvester Stallone/Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle Escape Plan was no masterpiece, but it had a reasonably clever concept and offered the opportunity to see the two aging action stars banter in enjoyable fashion. Such is not the case, alas, with Escape Plan 2, its misbegotten sequel marked by the indignity of not receiving a theatrical release. And although Stallone and Dave Bautista are top-billed here and prominently in the advertising, their onscreen time is limited. Be forewarned.
As before, Stallone plays Ray Benson, a security expert who specializes in advising prisons in how to prevent its inmates from escaping. His skills naturally come in handy when a member of his team, Shu (Huang Xiaoming), is kidnapped along with his tech wunderkind cousin Yusheng (Chen Tang) and thrown into a high-security facility whose name can be guessed from the film's title. It seems the evil warden (is there any other kind?) who dubs himself "The Zookeeper" (Titus Welliver) desperately wants the patent for a new satellite system designed by Yusheng.
So it's naturally up to Ray and his associates, including holdover Hush (Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson) and newbies Luke (Jesse Metcalfe) and Abigail (Jaime King) to rescue their comrades. Ray also calls in his friend Trent for some extra muscle, which makes sense considering the character is played by Bautista.
Shu receives the main focus for much of this installment, although we hear frequent voiceovers by Stallone in which he issues metaphysical advice on the order of "You move together, everything flows as one." The film includes numerous fight scenes, since the warden has a policy of forcing his inmates to engage in violent cage matches, the prizes of which are time spent in a virtual environment, "Sanctuary," where they can enjoy some relaxing fantasy.
Unfortunately, director Stephen C. Miller, whose numerous include such forgettable B-movies as Extraction, First Kill and Arsenal, fails to bring any vitality or visual coherence to the action sequences, while Miles Chapman's screenplay lacks the doses of wit that made the original film sporadically amusing. The design of the hellhole prison feels all over the place, one moment futuristic and the next medieval, with such flourishes as drones, artificial intelligence and a trio of albino hackers adding little of interest to the proceedings.
Chinese star Huang, on hand to better appeal to the market where the first film was a big hit, has the physical chops for his action-packed role but lacks the charisma to command the screen. Stallone mainly looks tired and glum, as if still disappointed over not winning the Oscar for Creed, while Bautista has little opportunity to showcase the unlikely comedy chops he's displayed in the Marvel universe. The supporting players are mostly nondescript, although Welliver seems to be relishing his cartoonish villain role.
Escape Plan 2 is essentially a tired, low-rent attempt to create a new franchise, albeit one now relegated to VOD. The film ends with a setup for a third installment which would well benefit from a bigger budget and the return of original director Mikael Hafstrom.
Production companies: Emmitt/Furla/Oasis Films, Grindstone Entertainment Group, Leomus Pictures, Lionsgate
Distributor: Lionsgate Premiere
Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Dave Bautista, Huang Xiaoming, Jaime King, Jesse Metcalfe, Wes Chatham, Lydia Hult, Pete Wentz, Shea Buckner, Tyler Jon Olson, Chen Tang, Titus Welliver, Curtis Jackson
Director: Stephen C. Miller
Screenwriter: Miles Chapman
Producers: Randall Emmett, George Fula, Xing Su, Jie Qiu, Mark Canton, Zack Schiller, Robbie Brenner
Executive producers: Wayne Marc Godfrey, Robert Jones, Tony Parker, Barry Brooker, Stan Wertlieb, Henry Winterstern, Arianne Fraser, Delphine Perrier, Alex Boies, Ted Fox, Mark Stewart, Vance Owen, Montgomery Blencowe, Ron Lynch
Director of photography: Brandon Cox
Production designer: Niko Vilaivongs
Editors: Vincent Tabaillon, Carsten Kurpanek
Composers: The Newton Brothers
Costume designer: Bonnie Stuach
Rated R, 94 minutes