By Jon Gallagher
No Escape (The Weinstein Company, 2015) – Director: John Erick Dowdle. Writers: John Erick Dowdle & Drew Dowdle. Stars: Owen Wilson, Lake Bell, Sterling Jerins, Claire Geare, Pierce Brosnan, Thanawut Ketsaro, Chatchawai Kamonsakpitak, Sahajak Boonthanakit, Tanapol Chuksrida, Nophand Boonyai, Kanarpat Phintiang, Jon Goldney, Duang Maidork, Suphornnaphat Jenselius, & Barthélemy Son. Color, Rated R, 103 minutes.
Owen Wilson usually stars in or lends his voice to comedies. He’s usually pretty good in his roles, though he tends to play the same character: a second banana type with a quick wit and impeccable timing. He seems like a natural with his roles, but many times that’s because he’s improvising the dialogue rather than reciting it. Vince Vaughn, one of Owen’s frequent co-stars, also does this, but not nearly as well.
That’s the reason why I was a little anxious to see how he would handle a serious role like the one he has in No Escape, a thriller which left little room for improvisational skills.
Wilson plays Jack Dwyer, an American who has been offered a job somewhere in Southeast Asia (I don’t believe the country is ever named) by his company which will be doing something to help them with their water supply (it’s never really determined what). He takes his family – a wife and two small daughters – along with him and there is some anticipation about the culture shocks they may find there.
What they don’t plan on is the rebellion that is being staged after they arrive. A coup is about to take place and the rebellion seems to be centered around the American company that is taking over the water supply. The rebels are grabbing any American they can find and executing them in the street.
Jack, who has gone in search of a newspaper, has to not only make it back to his hotel where his family is safely ensconced, but also has to escape the country with them.
Pierce Brosnan plays a British “tourist” who is actually a British secret agent (seems appropriate for a former Mr. Bond). He is instrumental in moving the plot forward and making sure there are some dramatic moments.
There are quite a few “edge of your seat” moments including one where Jack has to toss each of his daughters from the roof of one building to another with a several story drop in between. Director John Erick Dowdle does a good job of spacing out the peaks and valleys of the plot, making sure that the valleys never drag while at the same time allowing the audience to collectively catch its breath.
Wilson is very good in his role. Thankfully, they don’t try to make him an action hero. He remains rooted in his everyday smart-ass persona who is obviously in over his head. By allowing him to be vulnerable, it makes the escapes and near misses much more tense.
Jack’s wife Annie is played by Lake Bell, a relative newcomer who does a great job shifting between the loving wife and mother to the scared fugitive who undergoes a dramatic transformation.
The climatic scene is very tense and well done. SPOILER ALERT: Jack is being held by the bad guys and being prepped for execution. The bad guys grab one of his daughters and try to make her kill him by holding the gun in her hands and trying to make her pull the trigger. Finally, the rebel leader puts a gun to her head, and I won’t spoil it from there, but the ending wasn’t what I expected. I was pleasantly surprised and satisfied with the result. END OF SPOILER ALERT
My problem with the film is the lack of logic used in crafting the basic plot. It seemed that they came up with the idea – an American and his family being chased by bloodthirsty rebels – and then randomly selected a country and reason for the rebellion. I never really bought the idea of the rebels being upset with the water company, even though Brosnan does his best to tell the story from their point of view when he explains to Jack why they’re being chased. A little more thought, or perhaps a different, more compelling reason, might have turned the tide for me, but the explanation given just fell flat.
There are a number of near misses and narrow escapes, but still, the movie seemed short. At an hour and 43 minutes, it was plenty long enough, and any more escapes may have been one too many, but it still seemed like there should have been more. I wish I could nail it down better than that, but I was still surprised when the credits started to roll.
It gets a B from me, with the good points being the sequences that are tension filled, and the bad points being the vagueness and the plot holes. As for renting it, you’ve spent three bucks on worse things. If you’re in the mood for a gripping thriller, go for the gusto and rent it. It made it to video so quickly that I’m certain it’ll be in the heapie-cheapie bin at Walmart by the end of the summer.