Dog’s Movie House: “No Escape” Slick But Somewhat Unpleasant Thriller!
Howdy Folks! It’s The Kendog!
John Erick Dowdle is primarily known for his horror films. Movies like “Quarantine” and “As Above, So Below” trade on the menace of inhuman threats for the thrills he generates. It’s not a bad formula and those two films, while far from perfect, have some genuinely interesting elements to them. I suppose, then, I could forgive Dowdle (along with his brother Drew, who co-wrote the script) for applying the same formula for the new political thriller “No Escape.” Trouble is the people menacing the recently arrived to Thailand (or Cambodia or whatever country to which they’ve recently moved; the film doesn’t say) are supposed to be people, no monsters, and treating them as the latter makes this otherwise slick exercise in suspense and action filmmaking uncomfortable to watch in all the wrong ways.
“No Escape” starts with the beginnings of a coup and moves quickly to the trials of the Dwyer family. Father Jack (Owen Wilson) has lost his job in Texas and has to uproot his family to this unnamed Asian country to work for a big company called Cardiff. This includes his wife Annie (Lake Bell) and his two daughters, Lucy (Sterling Jerins) and Beeze (Claire Geare). Armed with nothing but American optimism (Jack doesn’t even own a smartphone with a translator app), the Dwyers brave the airport and get to the hotel with the help of a vulgar yet charming Brit (a very good but underused Pierce Brosnan) where they last all of a day before all hell breaks loose.
The next morning, Jack is walking a country mile to get, of all things, an American newspaper, when he walks right into a riot between rebels and the local police. This escalates into a pursuit back to the hotel where the rebels break in and proceed to kill everyone, including Americans, without mercy. Especially Americans, evidently, which puts Jack’s family in even more danger, if that’s possible. What follows is a series of escapes and brutal set pieces as the Dwyers attempt to get to the American Embassy.
As an action pic, “No Escape” is certainly impressively filmed, with Dowdle staging a number of compelling and tense action sequences. He and his brother frequently use the clash of cultures to escalate the horror the Dwyers are experiencing. Everything from language barriers to lack of technology is used to amp up the tension. He gets very good performances from Owen Wilson as the patriarch in over his head and is ably supported by Lake Bell as his wife. The two girls give naturalistic performances as their daughters, but though some of their ignorance of the situation is understandable, some of their reactions in service to the more horrifying elements of the story had me rolling my eyes on more than one occasion. (Witness the finale involving Wilson, his older daughter, and a gunman putting an even more sadistic twist on the game of Russian Roulette for a prime example of this.) As mentioned earlier, Pierce Brosnan has a good time with his role, but his screen time is limited to a few scenes that, in the later stages of the film, reek of dues ex machina.
The problem lies with the fact that the antagonists are nothing more than faceless, barbaric masses with no more depth than the most clichéd movie monster. Aside from Brosnan’s assistant (Sahajak Boonthanakit) who goes by the name Kenny Rogers, there are no Asian characters that make any real impact. They’re just hoods and murderers and monsters in human skin.
Were you to place “No Escape” into straight horror movie territory then these flaws would come off as relatively minor, but the brothers Dowdle want to create a political thriller of sorts, but by eliminating the politics or the motivations of the people involved in the uprising, the film lacks the balance necessary to provide more compelling drama than the obvious visceral thrills Dowdle attempts to provide.
As it stands “No Escape” is well-filmed, but comes off as more than a little exploitive as the film unspools. I may be overthinking things (shocker, I know) so if none of this matters to you, then “No Escape” may be a nice matinee diversion for you. If you’re like me, however, a movie needs to do more than just look good to become an absorbing experience. In that, “No Escape” fails despite its technical polish. 2 Out Of 5 On Kendog’s Barkometer! So Sayeth The Kendog!
“No Escape” is Rated R for strong violence including a sexual assault, and for language.
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