The Weinstein Company(LOS ANGELES) — When some people have a free 100 minutes, they book a nice relaxing massage and spend that time having all the stress expertly kneaded out of their body by someone who usually has small but strangely powerful hands. The thriller No Escape is like the exact opposite of that — 100-plus minutes of nervous, jaw-clenching tension that will leave you in need of a professional rubdown and a stiff drink. And perhaps a Xanax.
And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. No Escape stars Owen Wilson and Lake Bell as Jack and Annie Dwyer, who with their two young girls are moving thousands of miles from home to some unnamed Southeast Asian country so Jack can start a job where he thinks he’ll be bringing clean water to people who need it. Little do they know the people of that country are about to rebel, putting the family in the middle of war-torn chaos that will have them dodging helicopters and throwing their children off rooftops.
The film only works if, in the first 15 minutes, you agree to identify with the Dwyers, thinking, “Oh, I could see myself doing that with my family. That would be hard, moving to a foreign county. But it’s nice they’re together on this adventure and making the best of it and OH GOD THAT GUY WITH A GUN IS KICKING IN A DOOR AND MURDERING THE PEOPLE IN THE HOTEL ROOM NEXT DOOR!”
From there until the end of No Escape it’s a deadly citywide game of hide and seek, with you asking yourself every 10 minutes or so, “what would I do in that situation?”
I went along for the ride and enjoyed the unrelenting pace of it. I liked seeing ordinary people put in extraordinary circumstances and stepping up to protect their family. I like that Lake Bell isn’t reduced to a helpless mom while Owen Wilson saves his hysterical family — both are shown as alternately strong and weak throughout this crazy ordeal. And I very much enjoyed the all-too-brief appearances of Pierce Brosnan, who lent both some action star swagger and comic relief to this overstuffed pressure cooker.
But that doesn’t mean there aren’t a few big problems with No Escape. The bad guys here are the bloodthirsty rebels of this country in Southeast Asia, who have no problem murdering innocent men, women and children by the hundreds. They’re presented as cartoon-like savages with no moral compass, until we’re told more than halfway through the film that they’re actually oppressed freedom fighters waging war on imperialism. If you think about it, it’s a strange circle of xenophobia where everyone is bad in the end and there’s no one left to root for, except the Dwyer children. But this movie’s banking on the fact you’re not there to think too hard.
Also, some of the situations the Dwyers get into and out of are just downright ridiculous, making them either the luckiest family in the world, or secretly trained CIA agents. And since they’re very clearly neither, you’ll just have to agree to go with it.
Another thing No Escape has going against it is 2012’s The Impossible, the vastly superior film about the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami and its aftermath. Anyone who’s seen it will inevitably compare the two: both are about white tourist families fighting to survive horrific circumstances in Southeast Asia, and both are extremely tense. But No Escape lacks the heart, depth, nuance, and probably the award nominations of The Impossible.
At the end of the day, No Escape is a sleek thriller featuring a bunch of solid, likeable actors that will keep you entertained, provided you don’t think too hard about it. If nothing else, it adequately bridges the current gap between high-octane summer movies and the inevitable headier fall offerings.
Three out of five stars.
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