‘No Escape’: Tense, twisted threats for Americans in the wrong place
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Looks like they picked the wrong week to move to a fourth-world country.
“No Escape” is an outlandish, sometimes brutally violent, exploitative, fast-paced white-knuckler featuring your classic American everyman who suddenly develops action-hero skills when his family is placed in danger.
When I say “white-knuckler,” I mean that literally. “No Escape” takes place in an unnamed Asian country that resembles Cambodia (it was filmed in Thailand, but there’s no reference to any one nation). Soon after an American family arrives, a bloody revolution breaks out, and hundreds of innocent locals are murdered — but all of the focus and suspense is about those people from Texas and their desperate attempts to avoid a band of thugs who track them with the relentless fervor of mask-wearing killers in slasher movies. We don’t even learn the names of most of the Asians who are slaughtered throughout the movie while the American family hides and ducks and runs and plans an escape.
And yet. There’s no denying director/co-writer John Erick Dowdle’s skill set for creating almost unbearably tense and quite twisted suspense pieces in which you’ll find yourself laughing at the sheer unapologetic insanity of it all.
Case in point. Owen Wilson’s Jack, Lake Bell’s Annie and their two young daughters Lucy (Sterling Jerins) and Beeze (Claire Geare) are seemingly trapped on a rooftop where revolutionaries are systematically gunning down civilians — locals, Americans, Europeans, doesn’t matter.
Jack says their only hope is to leap to a slightly lower rooftop, across the street from their building. Annie should go first, and then he’ll THROW his kids to her.
In slow motion, as it turns out.
So why has Jack dragged his family halfway across the world? As Jack explains to Pierce Brosnan’s booze-soaked, crusty, Cockney-accented Hammond in a hotel bar, he invented a special kind of valve, but his company failed, and now he’s taken a job with a giant American conglomerate that will supposedly provide clean drinking water to millions of the locals here in Unnamed Fourth World Country Where People Eat Disgusting Food and Sing Karaoke and Operate Weird Little Stores and Recklessly Drive Odd Vehicles.
Brosnan’s a hoot playing a grizzled ex-pat who wears a tiger’s tooth around his neck, sports a variety of nasty scars and talks of once having had a family of his own. It’s as if his James Bond had been booted from the MI6 in favor of a guy who looks like Daniel Craig, and now he’s skulking about in the shadows as a gun for hire. It should come as a surprise to no one that when the bleep hits the fan, Hammond turns out to be more than just a drunken lech who’s in town for the hookers.
The perpetually laid-back Wilson seems like an odd choice to play a husband and father who has to get his hands bloody in order to protect his family, but he actually gives one of his best performances. Jack is a loving husband and a tender father, but when backed into a corner, he will grab a rock or a handy piece of furniture and cave your skull in.
Lake Bell does strong work as a mother who is fiercely protective of her daughters — and though you know she wants to kill Jack herself for putting them in this situation (somehow Jack had NO IDEA half the country considered his corporation Enemy No. 1), she puts that aside and teams up with him to save their daughters. As Jack keeps saying, all they have to do is stay 10 steps ahead of the men trying to kill them.
SPOILER ALERT. Fortunately for this family, these bad guys are like the bad guys in nearly every thriller of this kind. Just when they’re about to find you, they get called away to a more pressing matter. And when they DO finally find you, they cackle and taunt you and otherwise drag things out, giving you just enough time to…
Well. Just because a movie is called “No Escape” doesn’t mean there’s no possibility of an escape.
The Weinstein Co. presents a film directed by John Erick Dowdle and written by Dowdle and Drew Dowdle. Running time: 103 minutes. Rated R (for strong violence throughout, and for language). Opens Wednesday at local theaters.