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Front Page - Friday, September 4, 2015

But they do escape ...

The Critic's Corner

David Laprad

No Escape” is the name of the ironically titled action thriller starring Owen Wilson as a family man who unwittingly moves his wife and kids to a Third World Asian country on the eve of a revolution. I say “ironically titled” because Wilson’s character, Jack Dwyer, and his family do nothing but escape, improbably, and over and over again, throughout the film’s 103 minutes.

If you’re concerned about spoilers, rest assured I’m not giving away anything you won’t figure out in the first 15 minutes of watching “No Escape.” If anything, I’d like to spare you those minutes, as well as the other 88.

“No Escape” does one thing well: make people swear off ever visiting a Third World Asian country. If the movie is to be believed, they’re populated with bloodthirsty thugs who will kill you and every other American on sight.

The filmmakers don’t play fair, though, because they don’t name the country in which the movie is set. We only know it borders Vietnam, which means it’s set in either Laos or Cambodia. I imagine their assessment of these countries is also unfair, making “No Escape” xenophobic at best, and racist at worst.

The movie also preys on our reservations about cultures we don’t understand. I get it: being in a foreign country can be scary. You don’t speak the language, you can’t read the signs, and you don’t know your way around. When chaos breaks out, all you have are your instincts, and they’re as clueless as you. But instead of building suspense and giving us a realistic depiction of one family’s experience in a war-torn region, “No Escape” relies on our innate fears to carry us through its lukewarm action sequences.

I must give credit where it’s due, though. In one scene, a large gathering of foreigners has escaped onto the roof of a hotel and blocked the door. A helicopter appears, but then crashes, creating a barrier between Dwyer and the door. After the rebels break through the door, Dwyer tells his wife to jump across a large gap to an adjacent building, and says he will then throw their two daughters across before making the leap himself. Clearly, he’s reached a point of desperation. When he follows through, director John Erick Dowdle makes it appear as though the daughters are going to fall short.

If the whole movie had been as well done as this scene, I might have been able to overlook its narrow-minded storyline and enjoy the thrills. But no. Dowdle films the rest of “No Escape” with an almost pseudo-documentary style, giving even the action scenes a non-cinematic, made-for-television look and feel. Despite the nature of the predicament in which Dwyer and his family found themselves, I grew bored.

I could have lined up shots of ginger ale orange soda (my beverage of choice from the Coca-Cola Freestyle machines at the theater) and played a drinking game in which I swallowed one shot for every unlikely moment. Mid-movie, Dwyer and his family put on hats, cover their faces with scarves, and hop onto a scooter to try to make it to the American Embassy. They get caught between two angry mobs and are forced to motor through a thick crowd of insurgents – after Dowdle shows every Asian in the city to be volatile and suspicious. The thing I like least when watching a movie is when the filmmakers break their own rules.

By the time two men slam Dwyer to his knees and hold him there as a third rebel tries to coax one of Dwyer’s daughters into shooting him, I was being picky. For example, if I were one of the two guys standing behind Dwyer, I would at least step to the side.

The last two weeks of August and the first week of September are a dumping ground for studios with dogs on their hands. “No Escape” easily falls into this category. My advice: take a break from going to the theater and work through some of your Netflix cue.

One and a half stars out of four. Rated R for strong violence, including a sexual assault, and language.

David Laprad is the assistant editor of the Hamilton County Herald and an award-winning columnist and photographer. Contact him at dlaprad@hamiltoncountyherald.com.