MOVIE REVIEW: ‘No Escape’ Offers Surprisingly Few Thrills

Film: No Escape
Starring: Owen Wilson, Lake Bell
Directed By: John Erick Dowdle

Films like No Escape may be the most frustrating of all forms of mediocre cinema, if only because you know it could be something great. Maybe it’s the script, or maybe it’s the cast, or maybe it’s a combination of both along with a director who clearly has no idea how to handle what is essentially a survival-horror film, but something about No Escape simply does not work.

Owen Wilson stars as Jack Dwyer, an ex-pat who recently uprooted his entire family and moved them from Austin, TX to some undisclosed part of Asia for a new career after his own business crumbled. His wife, played by Lake Bell, has done her best to be supportive, but she can’t shake the feeling moving halfway around the world was perhaps not the best decision. She believes it may be too big of a change for them, not to mention their two daughters, to handle. There is not much explanation given for this reasoning, but then again, poor explanation for events and actions is a running theme in this film. It’s a story for people who don’t care who is shooting who, why they are shooting, or what they hope to gain from said violence as long as the onscreen chaos provides sufficient thrills. Unfortunately, No Escape cannot even do that.

On the day we meet the Dwyers they have just arrived in their new home, and it quickly becomes clear that they are no longer in America. The hotel they live in, which was provided by the mysteriously silent corporation that hired Jack, lacks basic amenities despite being hailed as a dream destination. The cable is out, the phones are dead, and everything has that cheap look that makes you feel as if you’ve just walked on to the set of a bad sitcom. The family tries to make the best of things, but it’s of little use. The only saving grace is a complete stranger, Hammond (Pierce Brosnan), who serves as something of a drunken guide for the family. His presence lacks sufficient explanation for a very long time, but the performance Brosnan delivers is one of his best in years, so you learn to roll with it.

Feeling the stress of knowing just how miserable he has made his family, Jack takes to the city streets in search of a newspaper written in English. He finds a three-day old USA Today, but before he has a chance to read it the streets around him go silent. Jack looks to his left to find a group of rebels with sticks and torches in hand, then turns to his right to find a battalion of police in full riot gear. It’s the kind of calm before the storm moment that sends chills down your spine, but as soon as the chaos breaks out No Escape begins to fall apart.

Jack makes his way back to his family, but not before learning that the angry mob is on the hunt for Americans. They want blood, and they will stop at nothing to get it, even if that means killing their own people. Anyone who is not actively hunting Americans is an enemy of the cause and therefore disposable, which makes the quickly growing mob increasingly dangerous. Police cannot stop them. The hotel security and staff cannot stop them. Nothing can stop them. It’s as if the carnage found in World War Z took place in third world Asia with angry people replacing the zombie hordes, only it’s executed in a way far too wrought with shaky cam and endless abuse of slow-motion to ever find a rhythm that works.

As the Dwyers move from their hotel to the city streets, No Escape leans heavily on the innocence of the family’s two daughters to fill sequences of exposition with faux emotional drama. One daughter must pee her pants in order to ensure the family is caught while hiding amidst the rubble of a recently bombed building. The other daughter, in another sequence, asks for food through tears shortly after surviving a shootout. It’s all done with the hope of making the events on screen a bit more visceral, but it comes across a little too heavy-handed to be believed. Wilson and Bell do their best to keep things grounded, but the shtick of realizing their romantic troubles are not really troubles at all in the big scheme of things because they’re currently fighting for their lives in a foreign place feels dated and underwhelming long before the credits roll.

It’s really Pierce Brosnan who saves No Escape from tumbling into the abyss of movies that come and go without a single memorable moment. Hammond is real from the first moment we meet him, with flaws and quirks to spare. You want to know everything about him and, even though you’re unsure if he can be trusted, you kind of wish he would at some point become the film’s protagonist. That never happens, but he does have a meaningful role in the film’s second half that keeps things moving swiftly in spite of the melodrama weighing down the narrative. Brosnan deserves bigger roles than this, but he makes due with what he’s given and essentially steals the film.

There is a moment in the opening scenes of No Escape when the film almost begins to feel like a disaster movie. There is a thick tension in the air that you can feel in your seat, but as soon as the chaos begins filmmaker John Erick Dowdle, who wrote the script along with this brother Drew, loses control. The tension dissipates before the Dwyers even leave their hotel, and by the time they meet up with Pierce Brosnan for the second time, the story is turning to the cheapest of scare tactics to hold your attention. It’s not a terrible film by any means, but aside from one or two performances it’s not all that great either. It’s just forgettable, and given its potential that is a major disappointment.


James Shotwell
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