Welcome back, readers, and as the long summer movie season draws near its conclusion, I’m among the early few to watch No Escape starring Owen Wilson.
Wilson stars as Jack, a businessman uprooted along with his family – including wife Annie (Lake Bell) and their two daughters - from their life in Austin, Texas, for a new start in a new city (vaguely defined as Asia). Of course, the changes are tough to get used to at first, what with no internet capabilities, cable television, or decent phone service of any kind. However, those problems quickly get pushed to the side as local bandits and citizens start rampaging through the city streets as an act of rebellion, killing foreign visitors along the way, leading Jack to keep his family safe, “ten steps ahead” as he puts it, at any costs.
Directed by John Erick Dowdle, whose previous credits include the likes of Devil and As Above, So Below (Now there’s a track record that gives faith), this film seemed to come virtually out of nowhere with little advertising even a week before its release, perhaps making one fear that its distributor, The Weinstein Company, don’t have much confidence in it. So it’s with a heavy heart that I can say that there’s a reason for that.
Also, fair bit of warning, there are minor spoilers present.
Admittedly, there’s quite a bit of the film that has potential. With social outburst and riots at escalating tensions, the relevance of the topic does open it up to interesting commentary. I think I like the ideas of the film more than I do the execution, which doesn’t give them the necessary expansion that they deserve. Overly simplifying its topics and barely even scratching the surface with them, such as its nondescript setting and the hardly touched upon backhanded business practices that generate much of the film’s events, the film for the most part eschews more interesting material in favor of more direct focus on the lead family, struggling to survive a conflict that they barely understand. That also affects the crowds of locals, most of which are painted as easy villains with completely one note characterizations, rather than the film convincingly humanize them like a superior film like Captain Phillips would.
However, even as a simple survival thriller, the film is still not a success. Given Dowdle’s roots in suspense and horror, I can absolutely see why he would be drawn to a project like this, and he does make some admittedly creative decisions, even if they make no sense upon reflection. An opening scene shot mostly in one continuous take gives the film roots reminiscent of Alfred Hitchcock, complete with a 60’s style title card, but barely registers or fits in with the rest of the film that follows. Other choices that hinder his movie are a reliance on numerous slow-motion shots that often contribute unintentional hilarity to the experience.The overall ambiance and attention to detail can sometimes be impressive, in some instances not so subtly reminding me of The Last of Us, but without much substance to it, it all appears as flash without real meat.
The more family centric elements are where most of Dowdle's attention is devoted, but they fail to generate much suspense given that, over the course of the film, we come to learn very little things about them. Most of their “development” is dedicated to throwaway lines that, once again, the film barely expands upon, saddling a talented cast with weak material. Back story aside, developments later in the story, in which they become more animalistic and deadly in their means of survival, hardly get much exposure or reflection, though to give some of them away would spoil a bit. There’s also an attempt to liven the mood around them with brief comic relief, with some of it being effective, but others can become more ridiculous than alleviating, including one bit character obsessed with Kenny Rogers, as well as the rooftop scene in the trailers with Owen Wilson chattering about getting his daughter a dog before hurling her to the adjacent rooftop mid-sentence. Some decisions don’t even need comedic roots to be utterly stupid, including one scene where that same daughter is forced to urinate in her own pants while the family hides in some rubble. I’m not kidding.
With the sloppy material at their hands, the actors are then forced to somehow make it work, with some being successful enough. Owen Wilson wouldn’t seem like the ideal man to play a role like this, but I find him likable and engaging enough for much of the film. He puts a lot more effort into this paper thin character than it perhaps deserves, and does have his emotions and heart in the right place. It makes me curious to see him in more dramatic fare. Lake Bell is less impressive as his wife, but still contributes some serviceable work. That’s more than I can say for Pierce Brosnan. At first, this does seem like a refreshing change of pace from the Bond-Lite style performance he’s specialized in since Die Another Day, but his alcoholic CIA operative is a mostly phoned in performance, appearing obnoxiously comical in the first act and completely disappearing until being shoehorned into the film’s final stretches.
Mostly, the film is just plain boring. It’s thoroughly in one ear and out the other the moment you step out of the theater. It’s shocking just how little the film ultimately impacts you. With all that said, do I think it’s a bad film? Yes. Is it among the worst of the year? Not even close. It’s more stale and forgettable than outright offensive as some of the worst movies I’ve watched this year. There are at least some decent things about it, and things I want to like about it, but a project like this needed more capable hands.
That’s pretty much all I’ve got. It’s telling what little passion a film inspires out of you that you can’t even be bothered to bring your A-game when writing.
** / *****