'Escape Plan'

A still from "Escape Plan." (Alan Markfield / Summit Entertainment, LLC. / May 16, 2012)

With the exit of summer's CGI-woven fanboy epics, the Sylvester Stallone-Arnold Schwarzenegger team-up "Escape Plan" arrives to conjure a time when sneering T-level cases grunted, punched and shot their way out of jams.

Stallone, who's engineered plenty of movie-jail breakouts over his career, plays prison-security expert Ray Breslin. Ray plays convict and ingeniously exposes the flaws in your federal penitentiary with wadded-up paper and a milk carton's wax lining (plus a dozen other screenwriter-friendly circumstances). But when Ray agrees to scheme his way out of the Tomb, a new privately run, top-secret fortress meant to hold the world's worst, this hulking Houdini learns too late he's been caught in a cruel, impenetrable trap. Still, he's got a "pen" pal in Schwarzenegger's Emil Rottmayer — a wily inmate operator — to trade barbs, blows and strategies with, and plenty of vengeful motivation in Jim Caviezel's sadistic warden.

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Directed with sledgehammer nuance by Mikael Hafström, "Escape Plan" wants to come across as smarter than your run-of-the-mill action slab — Ray knows chemistry and computers! — and in allying with a Muslim inmate (Faran Tahir), a tad more PC. But no amount of Stallone giving his best I'm-thinking grimace can match the gleeful twinkle in his '80s marquee rival's eyes for getting to be violent and nail all the laughs. "Escape Plan" is mostly a gray, thudding metal machine of throwback exploitation, but the goateed, goofy Ah-nold is so happy to be in the thick of an old-school bruiser again that he makes it feel like the dumb-fun flashback party it is.

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'Escape Plan'

MPAA rating: R for violence and language throughout.

Running time: 1 hour, 56 minutes.

Playing: In general release.