Tweetable Takeaway: No Escape is relentless in its tense action scenes, but that ends up holding it back. Tweet
There are no less than eight times I counted during NO ESCAPE where I wondered if I’d wandered into some alternate reality in which Owen Wilson and Lake Bell feel right at home in a movie like this. Not that there’s anything wrong with an actor playing against type, but the combination of two actors known for lighter, more humorous films, will cause a strangely dissonant feeling. The film itself is a nonstop acceleration of dangerous situations and harrowing escapes that, like the title intones, start to not feel like escapes at all. No Escape is a movie where women and children exist to be put in danger, and while the action is consistently nail-biting, feels exhausting by the second half.
Owen Wilson stars as Jack Dwyer, an American who has taken a job that sends him and his family to an unnamed Asian country. Upon arriving at the hotel with faulty light switches, his wife Annie (Lake Bell) and two daughters aren’t exactly thrilled. The absence of a working television will be the least of their worries for the next hour of the movie, however. A coup is taking place, wherein any foreigners are being tracked down and executed.
Just Jack Dwyer’s luck, his whole darn family is foreign. Owen Wilson is stripped of everything that makes him Owen Wilson, and simply reacts to the pressing situations at hand. And he does so gamely. If nothing else, Wilson is great casting for his blond hair alone, which becomes a frequent source of tension in itself. Having light hair instantly marks Jack as an obvious foreigner, that even from afar Jack doesn’t stand a chance of flying under the radar.
Jack gets back to the hotel and heads to the roof at the insistence of a retired James Bond kicking butt and saving his life (Pierce Brosnan in a small role, despite being featured prominently on the movie’s poster). Just when everyone thinks they’re about to be saved, a helicopter begins shooting them down. No Escape consistently keeps the action dialed up to 11 from this point onward. Obstacles and setbacks constantly get thrown in our protagonists’ way.
There’s no denying how well the movie continuously keeps one on the edge of his or her seat, but there’s a danger in how much white knuckling this movie puts one through. Fingers everywhere are in danger of popping off, and blood pressures will hover around unhealthily high levels. There’s something to be said about the quiet moments between action, and although this movie does contain one, it’s back to getting shot at far too soon.
Worst of all, continuously making sure the Dwyer family is in harm’s way starts to feel a little too convenient. The bad guys almost gain a supernatural ability to seek out where the family hides. There’s so many areas and other people in the city that when the coup members shoot right at the roof where the Dwyers are sleeping, or check the exact house they’re well hidden in and find them, it all starts to feel a little cheap. One or two coincidences can slide. This movie borders on about nine. Additionally, we’re subjected to a few other clichés at their worst. As mentioned above, the daughters and wife simply do a whole lot of screaming and not much else. It’s up to Owen Wilson and Pierce Brosnan’s characters to get business done.
We’ve got a treasured stuffed animal that gets dropped during a chase. As gunshots ping off the walls literally right next to Jack and his daughter’s heads, she screams at her dad to go back and pick up her teddy bear. We’ve seen this scene play out, but never with the danger so close. Now, I’ve never seen a 5-year-old separated from her stuffed animal in a gunfight in real life, but I simply cannot fathom that her reaction would be to go back and grab it, or make her parent get it. Though perhaps the screenwriters of these situations has some life experiences I don’t.
There’s much that No Escape does well, but isn’t free from a number of missteps that hold it back. Despite the strange casting, both Owen Wilson and Lake Bell excel in their roles. Unfortunately, Lake Bell is reduced to a helpless wreck for most of the movie. The action is packed with nail-biting tension and is relentless, too relentless. We fear for the characters’ safety, and then fear it so much that the situations become forced so they’re constantly in danger. There’s enough to enjoy in No Escape that one sit-through will probably be sufficient. Just keep your brain turned off.
I give No Escape 3 grizzled James Bonds out of 5
Score: 3 out of 5
Wil Loper | Contributor