No Escape from stereotypes in action-thriller flick 

click to enlarge THE COUP - ROLAND NEVEU
  • Roland Neveu

Owen Wilson (Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb) and Lake Bell (In a World…) lead as Jack and Annie, a couple that travels with their children to an unnamed, futuristic “fourth-world” Asian country for his job, unaware they’re entering the danger, corruption and chaos of a violently political coup d’état.

If the action-thriller No Escape, directed and co-written by John Erick Dowdle (As Above, So Below and Quarantine) is good at one thing, it’s dehumanizing a race of people and their plight as white protagonists (namely Jack, who works for a company that privatized that nation’s water source) find ways to rationalize their own histrionic violence.

Almost immediately upon arriving, the chaos reaches a tipping point and the family finds itself fleeing across the city in which it is trapped.

It is surprising to see Wilson in the cliché regular-dad-turned-commando role. But because he does not abandon his likable, somewhat bumbling everyman persona, Jack has far more believability and likability than expected.

Bell builds a more complex character, though she never escapes the equally clichéd mother-in-a-thriller role. Bell lends Annie a refreshing dimensionality as she balances her will to survive with her never-quite-buried resentment, spawned from the fact that she never wanted to be there anyway.

When the inevitable, single heroic moment occurs at the end of the film, Bell and Dowdle have done the work to make it ring more honestly than most stereotypical, blustering, international-thriller-cum-summer-blockbusters.

Pierce Brosnan (The November Man) gets a turn as well as Hammond, a charming, lecherous intelligence agent who ultimately trades his scotch for a pistol.

Skillful editing adds to the apprehension viewers feel for Jack’s family. Slow motion is liberally and mostly well-done, although there are moments when it feels manipulative. Scenes of our heroes throwing their children across rooftops would put anyone on the edge of their reclining theater seat, so there’s no other discernible reason for them to be slowed down to the point of becoming senseless melodrama.

However, it is the world that Jack and Annie are thrown into that proves most difficult for viewers to accept. No Escape lives in an Asia formed entirely of cartoonish, racist, fiendish stereotypes, making the plight of its people akin to one of a mindless zombie horde.

Carelessly broad cultural strokes eventually morph into abject dehumanization — at no point do the ultraviolent peasants rise above bestial violence, and they are rarely even considered from the perspective of the film’s prominent, white, American family.

Print headline: Family frenzy, No Escape is a middling summer blockbuster trapped in a bombastic and distracting netherworld of clichés and melodrama.

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Jason Shain

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