Spoonful of Cinema: No Escape

click to enlarge Pierce Brosnan and Owen Wilson in 'No Escape.'
Pierce Brosnan and Owen Wilson in 'No Escape.'

No Escape is fine, I guess. It’s surprisingly better than I would have suspected, but I’m not recommending it. The action is tense but the story is flat. Its story is wildly boring and its perspective is probably xenophobic. Giving the filmmaking Dowdle brothers the benefit of the doubt as far as the xenophobic possibilities go, there’s still something wrong with this picture.

Star actor Owen Wilson isn’t the problem. Neither is star actress Lake Bell. Neither is star support Pierce Brosnan. Neither is the directing team of Drew and John Erick Dowdle. What’s wrong with No Escape is the uninspired writing team of Drew and John Erick Dowdle.

Unfortunately for the 40-something brothers out of St. Paul, Minn., their combined efforts behind the keyboard are far more tragic than the events we witness on camera. The filmmaking duo brings us Wilson as Jack Dwyer, a newly transferred employee of a large corporation. The international company has something to do with the water supply in an unnamed, apparently irrelevant Asian nation. And guess what? The native inhabitants of whatever country Jack is in don’t like the fact that a big, bad business is taking their water because things have apparently gotten worse since Americans began controlling the supply.

The well-armed revolt puts the Dwyer family in an unexpected scenario. The locals are violently rebellious, and they want American blood. Despite the film’s title, Jack and his wife Annie (Lake Bell) do everything in their power to bring themselves and their children to escape from the lethally unfortunate situation they have found themselves in.

The route of escape takes us from the inside of a hotel building to the top of a hotel building to the top of another building and down and through the unnamed city to the U.S. Embassy and to the Vietnam border. Along the way, British Intelligence Agent Hammond (Brosnan) assists the Dwyers. Hammond alludes to the fact that Western military intelligence operations are responsible for the mess in whatever country the Dwyers are escaping from. He helps the Dwyers and puts his life on the line out of some sense of guilt. It all adds up to a script that feels like its main mission is to apologize for its lack of any sort of brains and then shove us into a somewhat suspenseful moment.

But the cameras do the trick. Whether I like it or not, I found myself occasionally impressed with the stylistic delivery with which the Dowdle brothers prop up their mundane screenplay. It is a directorial display that gives heavy hints to their roots in horror films, from the pacing to the music to the title screen. The dialogue is mostly fluff, but the suspense is mostly well executed and even somewhat gripping. But it didn’t stop me from feeling uncomfortable with myself every time I caught myself enjoying a near-death experience of one of our on-screen protagonists. Just like the script seems to apologize for its non-story, I felt like I had to apologize to my brain for having some sort of fun watching it play out.

No Escape seems to be entirely the Dowdle Brothers’ creation, and with the paltry substance that they provide themselves to work with, they manage to satisfy us in some very basic ways. We don’t know if any of the Dwyers will make it or not until the very end. We don’t feel as though any of them are safe throughout, but we are also unsure of why we would really care if a main character were to bite the bullet. Of course, some level of tragedy is implied when we watch a anyone get shot or beat to death, but building up a struggling family with a weak script to serve as their infrastructure doesn’t do the Dowdles any favors.

The body count in No Escape is probably the most impressive thing about the movie. It echoes part of the appeal and much of the nonsensical aspects of 2008’s Taken. But instead of a man’s daughter being taken by foreign assailants, No Escape paints us a picture of a man who obliviously marches his family right into Hell’s gates, which are seemingly always located overseas. The fact that Jack’s ineptness in planning so sharply contrasts his ability to think on the fly in emergency scenarios is troubling. There’s no way someone — particularly someone so bright as the inventor Jack Dwyer — would relocate their family via global megacorporation job placement without looking into the company’s social standing in the impoverished, politically unstable region it inhabits. Right?

What we have here is not so much a disaster movie as it is a disastrous movie. No Escape is a fitting title for this predictably unexceptional, relatively low-budget Weinstein Company flick. Owen Wilson seems to have no escape from bad movies, despite his obvious talent exhibited in films like Bottle Rocket and Midnight In Paris. Lake Bell seems to have no escape from taking bland roles as “the-wife-of-so-and-so,” despite her directorial and creative talents. The Dowdle Brothers’ directorial talents galore have no escape from the toxic script that they penned themselves. And we the audience had no escape from No Escape. In the end, whether the Dwyers survive or not, everyone leaves the theater a loser.

Grade: D+

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