Who shall we get to play the straight faced action lead who will go to any extent to save his family? Perhaps the likes of Liam Neeson, Nicholas Cage and Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson hadn’t paid their phone bills, because the answer to that question ended up being Owen Wilson in a rare foray into action heroism. No Escape has all the hallmarks of almost-straight-to-Netflix fodder, not only sporting a typically generic poster and clumsy tagline but being repeatedly compared with ‘the tone of Taken‘ in all available press briefings, not exactly untrodden territory. It is also co-starring Pierce Brosnan whose string of interesting roles was recently rudely interrupted by an escapade back into shoddy, generic action filmmaking. Early signals weren’t altogether encouraging.
No Escape is actually a surprisingly tense and effective piece of genre cinema. It uses the hackneyed trope of a father protecting his family against immense, malevolent forces and it does it rather well. Owen Wilson and Lake Bell play Jack and Annie, parents of two girls who have just relocated to what I have just discovered was an an unnamed Southeast Asian country, which I’d presumed was Thailand. The family find themselves immediately in the midst of a coup, with foreigners being hunted with huge local mobs wanting to overcome their imperialistic economic burden.
Jack is nicely positioned as a guy who just needed a job. The family did not want to leave their home of Austin, Texas for a foreign adventure but the job market demanded it. Jack naively thought he would be doing some good, working for an American clean water company. The film is played relatively straight faced and doesn’t venture too far into the ridiculous. Nobody is hanging off helicopters or making threats regarding a particular set of skills which they may or may not possess. That said, Pierce Brosnan does have a lot fun as a cockney with an eye for the local brothels and quite a bit more besides. There are moments which stretch credibility, such as when the family of 4 board a single moped and drive through an angry mob towards the US embassy with scarves unconvincingly disguising their whiteness. However, it has more than enough effective action set pieces as well, such as Owen Wilson literally having to throw his family between buildings in order to keep them temporarily at arm’s length from the mob which is genuinely nail biting stuff. Director John Erick Dowdle has a background in horror cinema and the tension he creates is often palpable, shooting action with a Paul Greengrass-like franticness that gives little time to process what’s happening, bolstering the feeling of chaos and that instinctive parental desire to protect your children. The performances give a strong sense of a family bond at the centre with Owen Wilson being a surprisingly effective, down-to-earth leading man.
The film just about steers clear from making the foreign ‘others’ come across as merely uncivilised monsters by posing a strong enough political message regarding American imperialism which keeps it sensibly nuanced for a b-movie which is essentially about persecuted, middle class white Americans. No Escape is an unpretentious and effective b-movie which is surprisingly enjoyable thanks to some strong feelings of desperateness and tension.
Review by David Rank
No Escape is out on 4th September and 26th August in the US. Rating 15 (UK). Running time 103 mins.