Jack Dwyer (Owen Wilson) – an engineer for a US water company – is relocating with his wife Annie (Lake Bell) and their two kids to Southeast Asia. From the moment, they land, plans start to go awry. They are to be met at the airport but some snafu leaves them stranded. A Brit called Hammond (Pierce Brosnan) steps in and directs them past the waiting cab drivers he assures them are crooks to a private taxi driven by a local friend. This leads to a hair raising journey to their hotel that serves to show how uptight the two Americans are. Things don’t improve at the hotel, the TV doesn’t work and Jack can’t get the latest edition of the New York Times.
Rather than trying the Wi-Fi, uploading a middling TripAdvisor review, and checking headlines on Google, Jack decides to venture out in search of an American newspaper. However, things are afoot in this unnamed country. A military leadership is being violently overthrown and revolution is in the air. Jack finds himself caught between demonstrators and armed police. Barely escaping the confrontation he is forced to navigate a warren of back alleys back to the hotel. Meanwhile, Annie and the children are unaware of the crisis and oblivious to the machete wielding maniacs approaching.
As all hell break loose this ordinary family is forced into a desperate fight for survival, but in their purely reactive flight from danger they risk jumping from one bad situation to another. There is help on hand when they once again cross paths with Hammond and his cab driver friend. It will surprise no-one that neither of these characters is exactly how they appear to be although Hammonds ability to suddenly appear when the Dwyers are in a tight spot is worthy of the shopkeeper in Mr. Ben.
Sparse but not unpromising material for a fast paced thriller, and the film initially appears to be a comfortable if unchallenging post-Taken B-movie. While never ascending to the upper echelons of action scenes, the riot sequence and resulting on-foot chase is reasonably well executed. However, as the film proceeds director John Erick Dowdle (working from a script co-written with brother Drew Dowdle) fails to build the momentum required for the movie to skate over frequent troughs of implausibility and pace. He overuses extreme slow motion in his action scenes, and stretches for emotional depths that the film fails to earn.
Due to the compressed time scale of a narrative largely taking place over a days and night, the film gets literally darker as it proceeds and fumbled attempts at a Greengrass cinéma vérité style result in action scenes in which it is very hard to work out what is going on. This is actually not entirely unwelcome because as the air leaves the movie’s tyres it attempts to compensate with increasing levels of violence that leaves a sour taste.
Wilson is fine playing the concerned dad. It’s a nice guy everyman part he can do in his sleep but sadly Bell is less well served by a script that makes her character irritatingly whiney. Best is Brosnan starring in a completely different film to everyone else, and one I would rather have watched. Hammond is a kind of gone-to-seed James Bond, as prone to massacring Huey Lewis songs in karaoke bars as he is the bad guys. With an outrageously awful cockney accent, Brosnan appears to be the only person on set having any fun. Sadly he just isn’t in the film enough to make it worth watching for any but die-hard Bronholm fans.
The problem with reviewing fundamentally mediocre movies like this is that while ‘meh’ might be acceptable as a tweet, a film review requires a little more content. This can lead to taking minor points and blowing them all out of proportion in order to fill space, but with No Escape there is an unavoidable elephant in the room.
The film is a little bit racist.
The zombie horde in World War Z were given more personality than the bloodthirsty revolutionaries in No Escape. They are entirely characterless, indistinct, and vile examples of otherness happy to murder children and commit acts of sexual violence without a moment’s pause. The film is barely interested in the multiple deaths of innocent Asian characters, grounding everything around its adorable upper middle class family.
No Escape is also very fuzzy about its setting. It appears to be Thailand from the language, and locations, but is could be Cambodia as a plot point involves the Dwyers attempting to reach the border with Vietnam. This is a terrific example of how liberal good intentions can backfire. Shot in Thailand it is clear that the filmmakers have bent over backwards not to offend the country, but in so doing have stripped the indigenous characters of an identity creating a faceless mass of knife-wielding rapey fuckwits without nuance or depth. Then in a really naff political bait-and-switch, Brosnan’s character is given a key speech about how the revolutionaries are just like us and the real villain is some vague notion of corporate imperialism. It’s hard to take this seriously when you have just seen someone hacked to death in a hotel room. There was more political sophistication in Sting’s Russians.
This sounds like outrage, but to be honest this is just another Americentric thriller that has no actual ideas in its vacant head. I genuinely think it is culturally insensitive more through accident than design. Ultimately it’s not worth the effort of being annoyed by; it is going to spend less time hanging around your neighborhood multiplex than a stale popcorn fart.