It could have been fourth time lucky for John Erick Dowdle. The American director known for Quarantine (2008), the unneccessary remake of Spanish cult zombie film Rec (2007), hasn’t received much love from audiences and critics in the past – but No Escape, his latest flick, looked almost promising.
Stars Owen Wilson, Lake Bell and Pierce Brosnan were involved, the premise was intriguing, and the trailer gave a clear Hollywoodian “spared no expense” impression. Unfortunately, the nicest thing that can be said of this new action thriller is that it perfectly fits with Dowdle’s consistently mediocre standards. In all honesty, we can consider No Escape one of the worst films of the year.
The plot hints at the American audiences’ recurring holiday nightmare of ending up in a remote country hostile to U.S. citizens. Family man Jack Dwyer (Wilson), though, sees moving abroad as a fresh start and a chance to step up the career ladder, despite some hesitation from his wife Annie (Bell), and young daughters Lucy (Sterling Jerins) and Beeze (Claire Geare).
No Escape opens with the family on the plane, directed to a non fully specified East-Asian country, most likely Cambodia; during their flight they meet Hammond (Brosnan), a cheerful albeit eccentric British man who seems to be a regular in the region, and even offers the Dwyers help reaching their hotel.
It all looks nice and dandy, until Jack goes out to pick up the newspaper the morning after, and finds himself in the middle of a clash between police and local protesters. We are still wondering what the heck is going on when things get nasty: bullets and blood start flying all over the place. Jack must get his family out of there before becoming collateral damage in what seems to be an unfolding coup d'état.
No Escape is nothing but a big-budgeted hide-and-seek tension game, with the Dwyers trying to sneak past armed guerrilla fighters, or running from gunshots and collapsing buildings. Who are these rioters, and what do they want anyway? They are diminished to blood-thirsty ruthless savages, but apparently all they want is to take power back from the corrupt government, and incidentally kill every American, guilty of wanting to sell out their democracy.
It could be a zombie film, and no one would notice the difference. A more important question is: who are the Dwyers? We don’t know anything about them: Jack is the caring dad who tries his best to save his girls, but the film never builds on the girls’ characters; they are completely passive and constantly in danger, their only function is tricking the audience into fearing for their lives. There is a poignant sequence at the beginning of the second act, when the family is on the roof of the hotel, and must jump to another building to escape from certain death. Annie jumps first, and then Jack literally throws the kids for her to catch. It’s ludicrous.
There is really nothing to care about these characters, but no one wants to see Owen Wilson or Lake Bell die, because everyone loves them in their previous films. Most of all, though, no one wants to ever see a baby splattered on the pavement. It’s an easy, subtly vile trick to build suspence. Well, it goes on like that for the rest of the film. It actually gets worse. Even the recurring references to Beeze’s birth prepare the ground for a story about almost dead babies. Give it a cut, for crying out loud!
No Escape could have found some redemption if it had given more screen time to Brosnan, who decently plays the part of the meddling badass.
It’s definitely more fun to see a former James Bond headshot the bad guys than witnessing Owen Wilson (who hasn’t had an action role since 2001's Behind Enemy Lines) and the rest of his family soil their pants for one hour.
It would probably have become a completely different film, but it would still have been better than this vulgar, deceptive, perverse insult to audiences' intelligence.
I wouldn’t recommend No Escape to the most stoic of trash action lovers. Or to anyone else, for the matter.
No Escape opens in UK cinemas on September 4th