Thursday, August 27, 2015

No Escape

3.5/4

Starring: Owen Wilson, Lake Bell, Sterling Jerins, Claire Geare, Pierce Brosnan

Rated R for Strong Violence including a Sexual Assault, and for Language

When thinking of "No Escape," the word "intense" comes to mind.  Not adrenaline, at least certainly not in the way a movie like "San Andreas" or "Furious 7" brings it to the table.  This is a no-holds barred fight for survival.  There are no superheroes and none of the protagonists suddenly turn into Arnold Schwarzenegger.  It's a kill or be killed situation, and the only mantra that holds them together is "10 steps ahead."

After his invention failed to take off like he'd hoped, Jack Dwyer (Wilson) has accepted a position at a water conglomerate.  That takes him and his family, which includes his wife Annie (Bell) and daughters, Lucy (Jerins) and Beeze (Geare), to an unnamed East Asian country.  However, when they arrive, things appear to be amiss.  There's no car waiting for them at the airport, and the phone and internet are down at the hotel.  Then the Prime Minister (Vuthichard Photphurin) is assassinated, and all hell breaks loose.  Revolutionaries are killing at will, but there real targets are Americans.

"No Escape" is hyper-violent and will shock even the most hardened viewer on more than one occasion.  I often blast the MPAA for their hypocrisy and inconsistency, but take my word for it: this is not for younger viewers.  Director John Eric Dowdle (whose previous feature was "As Above, So Below") wrings an amazing amount of tension and brutality from the script that he co-wrote with his brother.  He spares the audience nothing, and that gives the film its punch.

That's not to say that the film is flawless.  He overdoes the slow-motion in the early scenes.  A little of this goes a long way, but Dowdle doesn't know when and when not to use it.  As such, it quickly grows tiresome and dilutes the tension.  His casting of Owen Wilson is also curious.  Normally known for his comedic work (particularly Wes Anderson, who has cast him in every one of his movies and co-written some of them with him), Wilson has done some dramatic work in the past.  But his range is limited, and there are times when he can't quite deliver the dialogue correctly.  Overall, though, it's a solid performance.  More successful is Lake Bell.  The kids are okay, although in a few instances they become too cute (I fault the writing).

Much more troubling is Pierce Brosnan's character.  I saw nothing wrong with his performance (Brosnan is always the consummate professional), but his character is a cheat.  The movie's greatest success is focusing on a normal family who is completely out of their element; adding someone who knows what to do dilutes the film's greatest strength.

The dialogue is also on the pedestrian side.  Dowdle doesn't waste time developing characters, which is a good thing for a movie like this, but the dialogue is bland, which makes the characters a little flat rather than convincing us that they are stand-ins for ourselves.

Nevertheless, this is as intense of an experience as I've had at the movies in a long time, and its impact is difficult to shake.

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