Two boys having watched "The Great Escape" followed by the "FA Cup" allow their imaginations to run riot and come up with a war movie where the prisoners of war stick it to the Germans in a game of football. That for me is how "Escape to Victory" comes across, the fantasy of young boys or men who combine two of their greatest loves, football and war movies. And to make it more fantasy like fill it with some of the world's best players. None of which means it's actually any good because "Escape to Victory" ends up like the annoying little brother to "The Great Escape", screaming for attention but ending up looking quite stupid by it's outrageous embellishments and ignorance of what makes a war movie. Having said that, in it's own special, often cheesy way, "Escape to Victory" is still entertaining even if it is hugely flawed.
Whilst inspecting a WWII Prisoner of War camp Major Karl Von Steiner (Max von Sydow - Flash Gordon) spots the prisoners playing football and as once a professional footballer himself spots that some of them were also professional footballers including Captain John Colby (Michael Caine - Beyond the Poseidon Adventure). With so many great footballers Steiner organises a match to be played between the allied prisoners and the Nazi officers. Initially rejecting the idea, those in charge of all POW escapes set about using it as an opportunity to stage an audacious escape attempt having convinced American Captain Robert Hatch (Sylvester Stallone - Nighthawks) to escape and contact the resistance for their help.
So as already mentioned the storyline to "Escape to Victory" combines man's great love of football with his other great love, the magnificent "The Great Escape" making a fantasy combination. As such the comparisons between "Escape to Victory" and "The Great Escape" are too obvious as there are similar characters and set ups with one prisoner doing the honourable thing, having escaped gets himself caught for the greater good of everyone else. But "Escape to Victory" is no "The Great Escape" as it fails to deliver the tension, drama and sense of adventure which made "The Great Escape" such a great movie. That sense of intrigue and ingenuity is also missing making it all a little weak, actually very weak as a war time escape movie.
And then of course there is the football side of things with Michael Caine leading a fantasy team of some of the World's greatest players including Pelé, Bobby Moore, Osvaldo 'Ossie' Ardiles, Mike Summerbee and many more. In fact the football side of things is really more important that the POW side of things and watching Bobby Moore and Pelé playing football together is what it's all about. It doesn't really matter if much of the football is unrealistic and hugely manufactured as it gives us those memorable moments to make your dreams come true, Bobby Moore running past players, Pelé's over head kick to score a wonder goal it's all there.
The trouble is that "Escape to Victory" is just too unbelievable and at times is a mix of outrageous and camp. The officers who control the escape attempts are more camp and comical as they try to run things and the whole football game and the build up with a couple of training montages and Pelé explaining that give him the ball and he will zigzag through the pitch is just far fetched. Fair do's it's not meant to be totally realistic but in being so far fetched and fantasy like it often borders on the corny with football being more important than escaping.
And then there is the acting with Michael Caine delivering a truly blokey performance as Capt. John Colby and no matter how much I like Caine as an actor, as a footballer well it doesn't work. The same can be said of Max von Sydow as Major Karl Von Steiner the German officer who instigates the football game, great actor but in the realms of this movie, well nowhere near that great. But in comparison to Sylvester Stallone both Cain and Sydow do a great job. Now I like Stallone, he's Rocky and can deliver great performances but here he is as over the top as the actual storyline. Playing the role of Captain Robert Hatch the solitary American in the movie he basically goes for over the top in every single scene, talking too much like an over enthusiastic energizer bunny. And rather than coming across as the hero of the movie ends up being one of the major corny things.
As for all those great footballers who make up the allied and German team, well they do what they do best and play some wonderful football. But much of it feels overly orchestrated and again often feels quite cheesy, such as Pelé return to play with broken ribs and still managing to run circles around players. It's the intentional stuff of fantasy but heck is it cheesy.
What this all boils down to is that "Escape to Victory" whilst entertaining in a fantasy way as it combines man's love of football with "The Great Escape", it is also incredibly cheesy. It's far fetched, bordering on the comical and camp in places as it fails to find any realism in the storyline. But in a strange way it is enjoyable purely because you get to watch so many great footballers play together even if it is over the top and orchestrated.