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Wednesday, June 27, 2018

ESCAPE PLAN 2: HADES -- DVD Review by Porfle

I used to rent straight-to-video action flicks on VHS and sometimes be pleasantly surprised if they turned out to be better than I expected.  ESCAPE PLAN 2: HADES (Lionsgate, 2018) is like a throwback to those days, overcoming its relatively modest budget to score quite nicely on a sheer entertainment level.

Director Steven C. Miller, whose career I've sort of followed through THE AGGRESSION SCALE, SILENT NIGHT, and going all the way back to AUTOMATON TRANSFUSION, has scored the services of action stars Sylvester Stallone and Dave Bautista (AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR, BLADE RUNNER 2049, GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY) to head the well-chosen cast of his and writer Miles Chapman's semi-original, semi-derivative futuristic prison thriller.

Stallone plays Breslin, an ace security expert who gets people out of inescapable prisons.  This time, two from his own team, Shu (Xiaoming Huang) and Luke (Jessie Metcalf), find themselves in a super-advanced cage (it's run by computers, has force fields instead of bars and a robot doctor, and can change its architectural layout on a daily basis) for people who have sensitive information desired by their captors.

In this case, Shu's cousin Yusheng (Chenying Tang) has secrets locked in his brain that could change the face of modern warfare in cataclysmic ways, and certain people will do anything to get at them.
Naturally, Breslin finds out about this and puts the rest of his team to work devising a plan to get them out.  These include Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson (RIGHTEOUS KILL, 13) as genius computer hacker Hush, and Jaime King ("Goldie" of SIN CITY) as an equally proficient expert in whatever it is she's an expert at.

The film opens right in the middle of the action as Breslin's team is foiling a hostage situation while wasting some terrorists, during which one of their number fouls up big time and is ejected from the group.  (This will not work out well.)  Here we get to see how Miller directs action, which is to rely heavily on handheld camera and lots of quick shots and rapid-fire editing.

While this takes some getting used to, it's not nearly as much of a problem as trying to make heads or tails of the early action scenes in QUANTUM OF SOLACE or any number of modestly budgeted action potboilers of the past few decades.

And the set design stretches the budget beautifully--that prison is an eye-pleasing wonder of colorful geometric shapes against black backgrounds, with CGI used sparingly and tastefully for virtual reality elements, force fields, digital readouts, etc.

Fight scenes are plentiful from the gitgo, mainly involving Xiaoming Huang in battles against other inmates staged by the prison's head honcho, The Zookeeper (Titus Welliver).  Stallone and Bautista finally come to the fore by around the third act, instead of lurking in the background, when their characters find themselves in the futuristic prison and go into action while discovering the stunning secrets behind the place.

The DVD from Lionsgate is in 2.40:1 widescreen with English Dolby 5.1 sound and English/Spanish subtitles.  Extras consist of three substantial making-of featurettes, cast and crew interviews. and a trailer gallery.

The story is just complicated enough to stimulate our brains while our baser drives are stoked by the almost-constant action.  Stallone, fortunately, seems to have settled quite comfortably into "old guy who's still a badass" mode, and while everything around him in ESCAPE PLAN 2: HADES is shiny and new, it's great to have him being his old familiar self and taking care of business old-school.

Official Site:
Hashtag: #EscapePlan2


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