When Clint Eastwood took the spotlight at the Republican National Convention in August of 2012 he did more than just talk to an empty chair. He opened with some schtick about “movie tradesmen” who are all “left of Lenin.” To dispel this common misconception he then name-checked the vast number of GOP Hollywood celebs in the house. “Believe me, they are there. . . I saw Jon Voight, a lot of people around. . . Jon's here, an Academy Award winner . . .” he trailed on.
Yeah, it was a little bit awkward. However, he had a point. There are a number of conservatives in Hollywood. And you can find most of them in the movie “Escape Plan,” a film with much more pep than the recent “Expendables” pictures or Sylvester Stallone's “Bullet to the Head.”
In the cast you'll find Curtis “50” Jackson, who referred to George W. Bush as a “gangsta” - a term of endearment to the man with the “Get Rich or Die Tryin'” ethos. Also there's Vinnie Jones, who has talked about running for Parliament as a conservative and has said more than his share about immigration. Jim Caviezel aligned himself closely with the religious right after his role as Hamburger Jesus in Mel Gibson's “Passion of the Christ", and Sylvester Stallone has long been associated with the Republican party. His 1986 film “Cobra” is maniacal law-and-order pornography worthy of talk radio (yeah, 1978's “F.I.S.T.” is a pro-union drama, but he actually wrote “Cobra").
Then, of course, there's the Governator: Arnold Schwarzenegger, a man so important that his name auto-corrects itself on my Open Office software. He led the world's 8th largest economy, the State of California as a republican from 2003 through 2011.
Strangely, “Escape Plan” is loaded with pinko signifiers straight out of a Robert Greenwald doc.
Arnold Schwarzenegger is introduced wasting away in a variant of one of the more egregious crimes of Bush's America – an unofficial, black ops “super Guantanamo.” There's enough to stew on from that image alone. Here is a man who, if the dated laws about naturalized citizens being unable to run for executive office no longer existed, could very well be our President.
The story is even more condemning. There's little shock among Stallone's company of security consultants that the CIA might have an interest in engaging with a for-profit, ultra-secretive prison facility for people who “need to disappear.” It's set-up, clearly, as a bad, realistic thing, and there's not even a hint of lip service that this could, you know, violate everything about the US Constitution. Defenders of Camp X-Ray at Guantanamo at least mumble something about detained enemy combatants in a War on Global Terror, but as we'll see in “Escape Plan,” this new political oubliette involves white collar economic criminals as well. (Not that they're my favorite people, but, you know, they ought to at least get their day in court, no?).
When self-described “techno-thug” Jackson learns who the true bosses of the jail are, there's a quick throw-away line about “Blackwater rejects, real bad dudes.” Wasn't Blackwater a key figure in Bush's Iraq crusade, with ties to Cheney's Halliburton? (No, really, I'm asking here. Those years are a dark blur of depression, alcohol and debating whether or not to move to Canada.)
When the film's action finally makes it to “The Tomb,” there is, naturally, a section of the prison populace of Middle Eastern origin. Their Arabic salat is well-mixed into the score for maximum ominous portent. The Mulsim men are, at first, not even characters worth talking to. They must be true bad guys, villains ready to explode into violence at a moment's notice. Indeed, when Stallone and Schwarzenegger need to create a dust-up diversion, they only need to approach one the the halal tables in the mess-hall, say something about someone's mother being a Marrakech whore and, blammo, everyone is throwing fists.
And yet, in time, Faran Tahir's character, the representative of the Muslim crew, ends up not only being a good guy, but a martyr. He joins in the scheme to break out of the prison, pretends to be an informant, sneaks topside with Sly's MacGyver-esque (using the ruse of “prayer under the stars”) and helps determine where the heck “The Tomb” is actually located. Toward the end he's brawling and shooting right alongside our heroes, and is the only prisoner whose name we know who actually dies in the picture. “You're a good man” Stallone says just before Tahir croaks. His final words, in close-up, “Allahu Akbar.”
Woah, now, Tea Partiers, before you go puttin' on your John Deere caps and strapping on your Militia muskets (is that how it works? I'm from swishy New York, so I'm not really sure) there's something you should know. Even though there are accusations of Al Qaeda thrown around the prison's common space (called Babylon) there is a blink-and-you'll-miss-it reference to Tahir's character being tied in with a drug cartel. So, he's a criminal or Arabic extraction, sure, but not a t-t-t-terrorist. So you don't have to boycott this movie.
But the film's final reveal is downright unpatriotic. You'll learn that the CIA operative who knew about “The Tomb” from the start is actually in cahoots with Schwarzenegger, a white-collar criminal wanted by world banks for manipulating markets. Neither Stallone or the film blink for a minute at the thought of our government and corrupt capitalists working hand in hand to do . . .whatever it is that they're doing (the script is a little vague on Schwarzenegger's actual deeds). Nevertheless, there's a grand “no duh” at the notion of everyone in any position of authority – be it in business or government – being absolutely corrupt and nonplussed by a habeas corpus-free prison.
Call me naïve, but for a Sly & Arnie pic these motifs are somewhat unexpected. Perhaps, to save face with their conservative base, these guys should stop baking in the California sun too long?