Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 43 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for Strong Violence including a Sexual Assault, and for Language
Directed by: John Erick Dowdle
Written by: John Erick Dowdle & Drew Dowdle
Starring: Owen Wilson, Lake Bell, Pierce Brosnan, Sterling Jerins & Claire Geare
My mind is boggled that a film like NO ESCAPE could even be made in today’s society. Originally titled THE COUP, this film was supposed to come out in March and got shifted to August at the last-minute. The premise had a lot of potential behind it. However, I couldn’t help but notice that it was being written/directed by the Dowdle brothers. This pair of sibling filmmakers were also behind such disappointments as QUARANTINE (the [REC] remake) and AS ABOVE, SO BELOW (which had a great premise and little follow-through). In a sadly not-so-surprising twist of foreseeable fate, NO ESCAPE suffers from poor direction and bad writing. Though slight glimmers of quality occasionally shine through, this film comes off as an ultra-xenophobic exploitation flick and is weighed down by all the baggage that comes with that. It might be taken as unintentionally hilarious, if it weren’t so insanely offensive.
Jack Dwyer has moved his American family (his wife and two daughters) out to Southeast Asia for a business venture. Their trip seems to have gotten off to a rocky start with a rundown hotel room and a crazy taxi driver. Faulty electricity and bad driving are nothing compared to what happens next though. A rebel army has assassinated the prime minister and are rioting across the country. Jack discovers that these crazed gun-waving rebels are executing foreigners on sight. Seeing no easy way out of this dire situation, Jack does all he can to keep his family safe. This means venturing out into the chaos-filled streets to get to the American Embassy. That’s pretty much the whole plot right there.
The Dwyers are a bland family of generic character types. There’s the businessman husband, the reluctant wife, and the two daughters who only serve as children thrown into harm’s way (therefore automatically upping the stakes). Owen Wilson is woefully miscast in the role of a would-be action hero and his entire performance seems awkward. Meanwhile, young Sterling Jerins is reprising her role as the scared child from WORLD WAR Z. I swear that this was that exact same character, but with Owen Wilson replacing Brad Pitt as her father. Also, the villains are just a bland mass of Asians. We never find out what country NO ESCAPE takes place in (though most of the film seems to have been shot in Thailand). The characters never refer to it by name, they just keep calling it Asia. However, I’m not exactly shocked by that cultural insensitivity seeing that they didn’t even bother to correct upside down Khmer on police shields (which resulted in this film being banned in Cambodia). Putting it nicely, NO ESCAPE is xenophobic to the extreme.
As bad and misguided as a majority of NO ESCAPE is, there are brief redeeming qualities. These come in two polar opposites. Pierce Brosnan plays a quirky secret agent-like character and makes his scenes somewhat enjoyable. Brosnan seems to be channeling the goofy sort of camp that this film might have had if the story went all the way into enjoyably over-the-top B-flick territory. Instead, the movie tries to be a frightening thrill-ride from start to finish and only one sequence legitimately frightened me. Near the beginning of the chaos, the rebels are breaking down hotel doors and slaughtering the occupants inside. This entire scene through the hallways of the hotel is intense and disturbing. Corpses littering the rooms with blood splattered on the carpet are far more frightening than any of the goofy stuff that happens during the rest of this movie. This scene demonstrated how great this movie might have been if it had a solid script driving it and a better director behind the camera.
From the second act onward, NO ESCAPE gets increasingly far-fetched with each passing scene. Though some have said that this should be enjoyed as an illogical “popcorn” flick, I disagree seeing that the subject matter is treated as anything but fun. Shaky camera work is overused to the point of nausea and the film frequently delves into clichés. I found myself waiting for the sweet embrace of the end credits all through the final third. One illogical mistake is constantly repeated in characters leaving loaded guns (that could possibly be used to defend themselves) lying on the ground. I couldn’t help but roll my eyes every single time this happened. With characters this bland and stupid, I could really care less as to whether they lived or died. However, that didn’t stop John Dowdle from throwing in enough slow motion to compensate for about 5 minutes of total screen time. The most ridiculous use of this comes in the characters jumping off a rooftop. We see all four characters jumping or being tossed over a high gap between buildings…very, very slowly. I had to stifle laughter every time the dramatic slow motion came into play as if to compensate for the lack of dramatic heft and suspense.
NO ESCAPE is absurd, but not entirely unwatchable. The latter comes courtesy of Pierce Brosnan and one very well-executed sequence. However, these two qualities alone can’t save NO ESCAPE from becoming a distractingly xenophobic exploitation film that would be right at home in the days of cheap 70’s and 80’s B-flicks. That’s not meant as compliment either, this movie is a big disappointment. I can’t help but wonder how this even got funded, but such is life…and filmmaking. Maybe, in a few years, it could serve as a trashy piece of crappy entertainment for bad movie enthusiasts. Right now, it’s just a bad movie that happens to be playing in theaters nationwide.