The pulpy, hysterical throwaway thriller No Escape sends Texan Jack Dwyer (Owen Wilson), his wife (Lake Bell), and his annoying young daughters (Sterling Jerins and Claire Geare) to an unnamed Southern Asian country – the “fourth-world” as Wilson’s character puts it – to start his new job for a U.S.-owned company. Like all self-entitled Americans, they arrive, cranky, tired, jet-lagged and hungry for a sandwich only to be thrown into the middle of a bloody coup in which they and such fellow foreigners as the shadowy, boozy Hammond (Pierce Brosnan) are in danger of getting rounded up and slaughtered by blood-thirsty rebels. Jeez, what a welcome.
With madness and violence happening all around them every second, the grownup Dwyers find themselves forced to do absolutely horrifying things just to save their own and their kids’ lives. Despite a good opening section and some strong suspense sequences, No Escape is an ugly hearted and shamefully xenophobic B-movie directed with remorseless efficiency by brothers John Erick Dowdle and Drew Dowdle (he co-wrote the screenplay John Erick). It’s pretty obvious that the Dowdles, best known for such lean, spare flicks set in claustrophobic settings as Quarantine and As Above, So Below, don’t mean us to take their movie for anything more than a cheap, escapist late summer thrill ride. But this time, making Asians their villains and keeping them nameless, indistinguishable, emotionless – even CGI-assisted zombies show more humanity – they turn their movie into something ugly and despicable. There’s so much jiggly-cam and frantic editing that coupled with zero character development, a sometimes genuinely thrilling movie often plays like a cheesy, campy low budget Cannon movie potboiler from the ‘70s. It’s so illogical, it’s hard not to guffaw.
The laid back Wilson hasn’t tested his action movie mojo since Behind Enemy Lines but he and costar Bell do very nicely in trying to keep things funny, relatable, and human – even when the melodramatics are of the eye-rolling, head-smacking, throw-‘em-some-more-red-meat variety. It’s always fun to see Brosnan, who may be one of the best, but least lucky actors in the business. But, hey, it’s the end of August, that dead zone when movies don’t so much get released as escape. And that’s exactly the niche into which No Escape easily tumbles.