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Movie Review of the Week: “No Escape”

Movie Review of the Week: “No Escape”
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Owen Wilson and Lake Bell are known primarily as comedic actors but both turn in gripping dramatic performances in this run of the mill, American Tourists in Jeopardy, action thriller.

With a screenplay that only focuses on its Caucasian leads, “No Escape” risks being this year’s “The Impossible”…the Naomi Watts disaster flick that turned a blind eye to the hundreds of thousands of locals killed by the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004, asking us to rejoice in the survival of five white Anglophones. Similarly, Wilson and Bell, and their two endangered daughters take center stage among a sea of warlords and machete wielding thugs who pursue them with a Javert-like monomania after a bloody rebel coup.

The stage is an unnamed Asian country that looks a lot like Thailand (and it was primarily shot there) but could easily be Cambodia or Myanmar. Just as Jack (Wilson) and his picture-perfect family arrives from Texas to take a job with an American water company, the prime minister is assassinated and a blood-thirsty rabble takes to the streets killing any and all foreigners. Holed up in a fancy western hotel, Jack witnesses the merciless carnage and must make tough decisions to save himself and his family. The rest of the film is spent running and dodging bullets while hundreds of extras bite the dust in varying gruesome ways.

The first 45 minutes of this dynamically shot and edited survival-thriller are edge of your seat stuff. I had sweaty palms watching Jack’s animalistic nature kick into gear and seeing Annie’s (Bell) terrified desperation to save her children.  The chaos of the coup is frantically captured by director John Erick Dowdle and his cinematographer Leo Hinstin whose street scenes have a vibrant, kinetic energy. Stairwells and corridors become claustrophobic set pieces as the foreigners flee to the roof in the hope of rescue.

Early in the film, Jack and Annie meet a disheveled British tourist on the plane. As he is played by Pierce Brosnan, affecting an off-kilter Cockney accent, we know he must be an Important Character. And when he reappears at a crucial moment later on, the film swerves dangerously into parody. For some reason, the script writers (Dowdle and his brother Drew Dowdle) see fit to have Brosnan’s character Hammond crack wise with his loyal side-kick (Sahajak Boonthanakit), the only Asian character to merit a name in this increasingly jingoistic rant. Brosnan has never been weaker, playing the Graham Greene avatar with a misguided twinkle in his eye and a nighttime speech that just screams “Pay attention…here’s the moral to the story”.

Yes, foreign tourists are being killed in exotic locales, and one can’t help but be reminded of that as the body count rises. But without any political agenda, or exposition into the cause of the rebels, we might as well be watching faceless robots coming after our protagonists chanting “Kill! Kill!” And even though the film is titled “No Escape”, we can be pretty sure that for our family of four, there is going to be a happy ending, and that knowledge diminishes our investment in the suspense. Wilson and Bell could use this film to prove that they can stretch as actors, but they might want to strike it from their resumés soon thereafter.





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