When an actor like Owen Wilson attempts a serious role, a lot of people are dicks about it. Many won’t watch it on principle – “but he’s a comedy actor!”, others will but go into it knowing they’re going to hate the performance no matter what. But sometimes, these performances aren’t all that bad. Like Arnold Schwarzenegger in Maggie or Steve Carrell in Foxcatcher, once you get over the fact that this is something different for the actor you’ll often find there was nothing to be worried about. John Erick Dowdle’s No Escape, which is out now on DVD & Blu-ray, puts Owen Wilson in an exhaustingly tense action thriller with no cute puppies or Ben Stillers in sight. How does he get on?
Pretty damn well. Sure, he isn’t given a particularly deep or meaty character, but the fact is he plays it straight and he plays it believable. Wilson plays Jack Dwyer, a man bringing his family – wife (Lake Bell) and two children – to an unspecific Southeast Asian country for a fresh start with his new job in water systems. But shortly after arriving, the family find themselves in the middle of an excessively violent confrontation between armed rebels and riot police which soon turns into a city-wide massacre. Luckily for the Dwyer family, Pierce Brosnan happens to be staying in the same hotel and is on-hand to badass his way through the rebel scum.
No Escape’s tension, violence and action is, for lack of a better phrase, on point. It is often relentlessly exhausting in its frequency and gives you no time to relax, making the edge of your seat the place you’ll spend most of your time. And at the end of the day, that’s what No Escape is. It’s not a character study, it’s not an award-winning drama. It’s a suspensful popcorn-munchin’ B-movie full of guns, explosions and…more guns. It is often harrowing in its depiction of innocents being slaughtered, especially in this world we live in full of terrorism and fear, which gives it more power. But this has caused a bit of trouble…
There has been criticism that the film comes off as racist or xenophobic. Our heroes are all predominantly white Americans and Brits, while almost every Asian we meet in the film is either a blood-thirsty psychopath or ‘collateral damage’. But I would disagree. Although the film doesn’t really do much for Southeast Asia’s tourism – the country the film is set in is unspecified, presumably not to paint a bad picture of a certain place – there are some kindly, brave Asian characters in the film and even the psychopaths are described as ‘just protecting their families’ when the somewhat anticlimactic motive behind the attack is revealed.
Visually, the film is solid. The setting hammers home the feeling of isolation and being trapped in a foreign land, while the endless streets suggest there is indeed no escape. Director John Erick Dowdle, best known for horrors such as Quarantine, Devil and As Above So Below, certainly brings his knowledge of scariness here and makes the film often feel more horror than thriller with the bleak and harrowing visuals. Hell, it almost feels like a zombie movie when the ‘survivors’ are barricaded on rooftops or in buildings while the mad protestors are trying to smash the doors down. But Dowdle’s insistence on using slow-motion on an already amusingly far-fetched scene only added to the unintentional comedy of it, making the sequence feel a little out of place. Other than that, he did a decent enough job with the B-movie.
At the end of the day, No Escape succeeds at what it’s trying to do. It gets a good, straight-faced performance out of Owen Wilson but all it really involves is making him run around, shout, and say generic “we’re going to get out of here” dialogue. Pierce Brosnan plays Pierce Brosnan but has anyone ever had a problem with that? In Pierce we trust. And Lake Bell and the kids portray the standard action/disaster movie family with no issue. But like I said, No Escape isn’t a film about performance. It’s about tension, violence and dread. It’s exhausting and relentless, but it is entertaining and suspenseful. It’s not a perfect film, nor is it trying to be. But what it tries to be – an edge-of-your-seat thriller – it certainly succeeds in.
No Escape gets away with a solid 3/5.
No Escape at CeX
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