Stars: Owen Wilson, Lake Bell, Pierce Brosnan, Thanawut Kasro, Chatchawai Kamonsakpitak | Written by John Erick Dowdle, Drew Dowdle | Directed by John Erick Dowdle
No Escape starts out with Jack and Annie Dwyer (Wilson & Bell) and their two daughters emigrating to an unspecified Southeast Asian country for Wilson’s work. This work is somehow connected to the country’s water supply and it’s hinted that the company may have had some shady dealings in the past. This notion becomes somewhat inconsequential when violent revolutionaries seize power from the government and beginning tearing through the city, killing any foreigners they find. This makes life difficult for the young family as they’re staying at the richest, most foreigner-friendly hotel in town…
Owen Wilson might seem like an unlikely action hero, but there was a time when he looked primed to become America’s next golden-haired champion of good and kicking ass. Roles in films like Behind Enemy Lines and Armageddon set a tone that he quickly subverted with roles in action-comedies like Shanghai Noon and I Spy, not to mention his now-trademark offbeat persona honed in Wes Anderson films and countless romantic comedies. He clearly went with the material that interested him more, but was somehow tempted to join fellow indie-and-romcom staple Lake Bell in No Escape, a film that pits their married couple against a horde of murderous Asian people and Pierce Brosnan’s cockney accent.
Though the reasons for their peril are at best of dubious tastefulness and at worst violently xenophobic, the family’s bid to first hide their hunters and later escape from the hotel is surprisingly gripping. Confusion gives way to panic (especially when Annie and Jack realise their eldest daughter is in the pool on another floor) but both parents regain some degree of composure and make it to the roof with all the other white folks, gruffly aided by an expat Brit, Hammond, played by Pierce Brosnan. Possibly reliving his glory days as one of the world’s biggest action stars, Hammond is a man who likes to fight, tell children where he got his many scars and sing drunken karaoke, and seems a more likely candidate to be the hero of this story.
As it is he’s only really there for colour (read: forced humour) and to hurt people when the plot demands it, and things end for him about as suddenly and oddly as they began. The crux of the film lies mainly with the Dwyers’ battle to keep their family together and alive (which is a slightly OTT metaphor for moving house, I think), though they get out of so many deadly scrapes where others have succumbed that you start to think that perhaps one of the couple is hiding government training in their past. Both leads do well with the material: Wilson plays an overmatched father who rises to the incredible challenge but still maintains an undercurrent of fear; and Bell does, well, the same, accessing a well of violence against faceless foreign attackers that she was heretofore unaware of. This violence doesn’t quite overturn our view of the stars as principally comic actors, unfortunately, and one scene in which Wilson throws his daughters from one roof to the next plays like the biggest gag in a movie that isn’t supposed to have any.
Unfortunately, that’s the best the material gives us, as it’s hard to see No Escape as anything other than the demonization of a race of people for the sake of putting the white, western heroes in peril. The film has an incredibly heavy touch, spending much of its runtime trying to make us care about the [sticking together] of Wilson’s family unit but very little on who the revolutionaries are or why they might have a bone to pick with the western imperialists using their country as a playground. There’s a vague suggestion that Wilson’s company is responsible for the anger of the people, but it’s barely addressed and entirely forgotten about by the climactic, inevitably rain-drenched sequence in which the family try to make their final escape by boat. I don’t want to spoil the ending, but Bell’s performance reminded me of the one she gave in the much more nuanced, traumatising and plain interesting horror Black Rock.
Which is to say things get violent, but that’s about all. Those looking for geopolitical insight or subtlety should steer clear. Those who want to see Owen Wilson toss little girls off of roofs should dive in.
No Escape is released on DVD and Blu-ray on January 11th, courtesy of eOne. Pre-order your copy below: