Relentless action movie No Escape tells the story of an American family who move to somewhere in South East Asia, only to become the quarry in a nerve-jangling game of cat and mouse.
Jack (Owen Wilson), Annie (Lake Bell), and their two girls move to start work on a water purification project but their toothy smiles and perennial optimism are dulled momentarily when they become caught up in the midst of a violent coup.
Trapped inside their hotel, and with a crowd baying for their blood, the family must find a way to safety – while the audience faces more of a moral dilemma.
Written and directed by the Dowdle brothers (who brought us some enjoyable found footage horror in Quarantine, and As Above So Below) No Escape brings along a lot of the trappings of the horror genre: the action is violent and visceral, the tension is at times palpable, and the casting is highly questionable.
Bell (who was perfectly cast earlier this year in rom-com Man Up) unfortunately doesn’t bring much to the meagre role.
It’s hard to fault Bell in fairness, as Annie’s range of actions – running, jumping, worrying – seem to be interjected at random into the screenplay. Pierce Brosnan also gets thrown into the mix, channelling David Bowie after decades of substance abuse, Brosnan’s Hammond is a repeat visitor to South East Asia whose dodgy underworld connections come in handy when things start to go awry.
And for a Taken-styled thriller, Owen Wilson seems out of place among the incessant violence.
For future reference, Owen Wilson is made for poignantly wandering around colourful Wes Anderson films, hamming it up on the catwalks of Zoolander, or quietly mourning pets.
And while the character of Jack is a softly-softly kind of guy who just wants the best for his family, it does starts to become farcical once they are all in the thick of it.
“Don’t worry, nobody is going to die” he – Wilson – whispers to Bell at one point towards the end of the movie, when they have both watched, oh, at least 50 or 60 people perish before their very eyes.
Of course, he meant “none of us nice Americans are going to die” – which brings us to the audience’s dilemma.
On one hand, you can watch No Escape as an exciting and brainless action movie with a high body count.
But on the other hand, you can watch No Escape as a film that depicts South East Asia as a hostile and savage place, with every possible stereotype included on screen within the opening 15 minutes: “Welcome to the Third World,” says Jack sardonically when they check into their hotel room and find that none of the appliances works properly, “more like Fourth World” replies Annie.
While it was shot in Thailand, No Escape never explicitly states what country the story is set in, though there are implications that it is set in Cambodia – where the film is currently banned.
Devoid of the controversy surrounding it, No Escape is a competent throwback to action movie days of yore, but it is impossible to separate the film and its place in history.
The problem is that No Escape not only falls short in a moral sense, it is also falls short when set beside the great action movies of the last decade like Taken, The Raid, or Mad Max.
Unwittingly, No Escape has prompted a discussion about how race and location should be represented on screen, and aside from 100 minutes of distraction, perhaps that is the best thing it has to offer.