“No Escape” Movie Review

    There are a number of actors of whom you expect to see in a certain type of role, accepting them for the kind of characters we are accustomed to them playing.  Owen Wilson is certainly one of those actors.  When he appears on screen, we want to see him bragging about how he whittled a massive wood sculpture for a wedding gift or while we’re on that topic, seeing him and Vincent Vaughn bedding women they meet at the latest wedding they’ve crashed.  What we don’t expect is for Wilson to be running for his and his family’s very lives in a foreign country as they are chased by a group of violent and barbaric men who are intent killing them on their way to overthrowing the government.  And yet that’s exactly what we get from director John Erick Dowdle’s film, “No Escape”, a dirty, gritty, and loathsome exercise in filmmaking that is devoid of any real plot, but chalk full of gruesome and savage imagery on the part of the nameless and faceless bad guys.

     “No Escape” is the kind of film where the screenwriters decide it’s not necessary to tell a story, instead choosing to emerge the audience into a one note scenario.  Sure there are a couple poorly conceived attempts at character development in the beginning that establish Jack Dwyer (Wilson) as an engineer who works for a corporation that has sent him and his family to an unnamed Southeast Asian country (the film was shot in Thailand) to complete a water supply project.  In tow, his wife, Annie (Lake Bell), and two daughters, Lucy (Sterling Jerins) and Beeze (Claire Geare), all seem skeptical and at the least are constantly displaying a poor attitude about their arrival in a third world country.  Also introduced for reasons we know will come into play later is Hammond (Pierce Brosnan), who seems all too willing to help Jack and his family at the airport and even supplies a ride to their hotel via a cab buddy of his.  Never mind the fact Jack is meeting Hammond for the first time and for the sole reason they happened to be sitting next to each other on the airplane.

     Dowdle, whose credits include 2008’s “Quarantine” and 2010’s “Devil”, wastes no time allowing our protagonists to get settled as Jack immediately finds himself in the middle of a full on coup attempt as hundreds of violently rowdy killers take on the local police as he emerges from a convenience store after buying a newspaper.  When he rushes back to the hotel, he finds it is under siege and knows his family is in danger.  Dowdle engulfs his action sequences with gobs of slow motion, showing every detail as blood splatters and bullets fly.  There’s nothing wrong with the use of this effect, but Dowdle lays it on thick, as it seems everyone is operating at another speed throughout.  He manages to stage a number of sequences that do a fine job of creating a gut wrenching feeling of real peril.  In one scene, the family has been cornered on the roof top of the hotel as gunmen are approaching, killing everyone in sight in a brutal style of execution.  With no where else to go, Jack has Annie jump from the roof top to the roof of the next building.  He then throws his two daughters, one at a time, over to Annie as she attempts to catch them.  The scene, which of course is presented nearly all in slow motion, is one of the high points of the film as it demonstrates the sheer desperation these people are experiencing in order to survive a few minutes more.

     Where the film falters is when you realize that is all there is going to be for the film’s entire 103 minute running time.  It is essentially a chase movie, where you have no real idea why this gang has made it such a priority to hunt down Jack and his family to kill them.  Non verbal cues allow for the fact they know Jack works for the company that is there to do the water supply project, and perhaps that’s all there is to it.  He’s an American, there to advance some evil plan of corporate greed and that’s enough to overthrow the government and kill anyone who is foreign to their country.  Later, Brosnan’s character explains that the men who are trying to kill them are regular guys who view their actions as ones taken to protect their own families.  Nonetheless, Jack and his family, with the help of Hammond run and hide through dark buildings and poorly lit streets.  All in an effort to some how escape.  I guess that gives you an idea as to how the film was given its title.  It’s amazing how far a fine actor like Brosnan has fallen post Bond, taking roles like this one that fall well below his considerable talent.  In a nod to that series, Jack asks Hammond if he’s British CIA with Hammond replying deadpan “Something like that.”

     What’s sad about a film like “No Escape” is how it blatantly exploits the built in fear Americans seem to have about brown people in general.  Here we have, yet again, a white family who starts out the story by complaining about being inconvenienced in their hotel due to the lack of television, phone, and internet, and then finds themselves in a situation where hundreds of nameless, soulless brown colored foreigners intend to brutally beat, rape, stab, and shoot them on sight.  You watch this film and wonder, what kind of image does this paint about people who live in Southeast Asia?  Are we being led to believe through this fiction that they are all this way?  Does it have the same effect as watching the TV show “COPS” did in the 1990s in which white America suddenly developed an inherent fear of the black man?  As is, that’s exactly the kind of feeling I would’ve had if I didn’t know better.  If only Dowdle and his co-screenwriter, brother Drew, would have conjured up a first act that worked to establish the cause for what occurs in this film and actually put a face on the would be villains.  As they’re presented here, they are nothing more than foreign born boogeymen.  GRADE: D