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Look past the amazingly goofy (and misleading) DVD cover and you'll find The Escapist, a low-budget British indie from 2001 that's only now making its way stateside because it stars a pair of actors who've since gone on to build a pair of names for themselves.
And guess what? It's actually pretty good!
Jonny Lee Miller, co-star of three films released this year (Melinda and Melinda, Aeon Flux, and Mindhunters), stars here as a wealthy young pilot named Denis. Husband to a beautiful (and mega-pregnant) wife and seemingly on top of the world, Denis hits Nightmare City when a trio of scummy thieves break into his house and summarily slaughter his missus. (Not a spoiler, since it happens in the first ten minutes!)
The leader of the scummy thief bastards is Ricky Barnes, as played with much sweat and scumminess by good ol' Andy Serkis, the fine British character actor you might remember from some New Zealand indies called King Kong and The Lord of the Rings. (No kidding: Serkis is a damn fine actor, and he's clearly having some real fun playing a villain this amazingly evil.)
So anyway, Barnes is promptly captured and sentenced to one of Britain's nastiest and most escape-proof prisons. A twenty-year sentence feels like a slap on the wrist to poor, grieving Denis, so here's what he does: He gives his entire estate and his newborn daughter to his sister-in-law, heads into the nearest city, and smashes a cop car to smithereens with a sledgehammer. Why?
Because Denis wants to get thrown into prison so he can track down Ricky Barnes and exact a sweet, brutal revenge, that's why!
Of course, one stupid act of vandalism isn't going to get Denis into the correct prison, but our hero has a plan: He'll constantly escape from each prison until the authorities have no choice but to toss Denis into Ricky's prison-yard. What a foolproof plan!
So that's where "The Escapist" comes from ... only the word "escapist," when used as a noun, means "daydreamer," and not "guy who always breaks out of prison." But hey, lots of half-decent B-movie have really stupid titles and really awful DVD covers.
Rough, simple, and enjoyably fast-paced, The Escapist is the textbook example of "a solid cable flick." Yes, there's plot holes galore, particularly during Act III, but here's a story that's simple and slick, told with no muss, no fuss, and no stupid surprises.
Director Gillies MacKinnon (A Simple Twist of Fate) is well aware of the pulpy product he's peddling, and he directs the no-nonsense affair with a brisk efficiency. The Escapist might get a little silly before it's all over, but the flick maintains a straight face and ties up all the loose ends quite satisfactorily.
Video: It's an anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) transfer, but this movie looks less than stellar, believe me. The picture leans towards the fuzzy side, and the colors seem washed out and drab ... and I don't mean in an intentional way.
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 with optional subtitles in English and Spanish.
Extras: A handful of trailers for The Tenants, London, The Net 2.0, The Hunt for Eagle One, Black Dawn, The White Dragon, Into the Blue, and Underworld: Deluxe Edition.
As a simple yet satisfying pulp-crime story from across the pond, The Escapist is quite a lot more entertaining than you'd logically expect. Miller fans and Serkis freaks will especially enjoy this fast-paced thriller, but just about anyone with a remote control and 81 spare minutes should also find themselves comfortably entertained.