OP-ROB RATING: BENCH
The new thriller, “No Escape” opens with a bloody political assassination, perpetrated by rebels in red bandanas. Forget any explanation for this startling tip-off to the movie, because the director, John Erick Dowdle, winds back the clock a few hours and puts us on a plane with Jack and Annie Dwyer (Owen Wilson and Lake Bell) and their two daughters, Beeze and Lucy (Sterling Jergins and Claire Geare). This happy family of four is headed to Southeast Asia, where Jack has been hired as a water valve engineer by a water company called Cardiff. On the flight, Beeze drops her beloved stuffed animal below her seat where it is picked up and returned by Hammond, a mysterious guy with a tiger tooth necklace played by Pierce Brosnan. Upon arriving to the airport, Hammond helps the Dwyers’ navigate through the masses of Southeast Asians and even shares a bumpy bus ride with them to the Imperial Lotus Hotel, where they all happen to be staying.
Despite excellent reviews on Trip Advisor, the Imperial Lotus Hotel turns out to be not so imperial in its accommodations. Nothing in the room works, the concierge is utterly unhelpful, and Jack can’t get his hands on a U.S. newspaper that isn’t three days old. Perhaps he should have done a smidge of research before uprooting his family and moving to a country in Southeast Asia that is festering with poverty and clearly has an unstable government. However, we are not left any time to think about how absurd Jack’s situation is. Just as he begins to dig into his stale USA Today, hordes of feverishly mad Asians in red bandanas swarm the streets and he must escape back to the crummy hotel.
Jack pilots himself back to the Lotus as if he was a local and makes it just in time to get his family to the roof of the building. From this point the movie simply goes into one narrow and improbable escape after another. This formula is not uncommon, and has been used in gripping films such as Gareth Evans’ “The Raid: Redemption” and Alfonso Cuarón’s “Gravity”. In “The Raid”, Evans fills the space between his close calls with bone-crunching fist fights, Cuarón opts for insightful character development. In “No Escape” the filling is far less inventive. Jack tosses his daughters off of a roof and bludgeons a man to death with little contemplation, yet when there is a lull in the action he has an untimely panic attack in a far less intense situation. When the odds of survival are low enough, Dowdle employs Hammond, who pops into the movie at various moments just in time to shoot all of the bad guys. Between these less than thrilling sequences we are given motivational pep talks on family survival from Jack and Annie.
Hammond serves up the most pathetic piece of “No Escape”, when he reveals the reason for the government overthrow. Cardiff, the water company that hired Jack, is run by heartless capitalists who have been exploiting the ambiguous country of its labor and resources for years. Hammond explains how Cardiff moves into the region promising clean water facilities, and lures the common people into crippling debt in order to pay for the water. Now that Dowdle has proved his sentiment for poor Southeast Asians, he gets back to the poor Southeast Asians mercilessly trying to kill the rich white people.
True to its title, “No Escape” offers no escapism. The film seems to be running on fumes from the opening scenes. Owen Wilson and Lake Bell are admirable victims, yet there is nothing resembling an interesting plot to support them. It is hard to feel suspense when the basis of the situation is half-baked and Pierce Brosnan is always on deck to neutralize the threat. Owen Wilson and Lake Bell should know a late-summer dud when they see one, after an experience abroad like “No Escape”, they might do their research next time.