Ugly, Unsophisticated "No Escape" Short On Suspense

Owen Wilson hasn’t made a serious action play since 2001’s “Behind Enemy Lines,” a profitable but utterly inconsequential war pic co-starring the since retired Gene Hackman. Only enjoyable in its minefield of silly plot holes, the movie seemingly put to bed the career of Owen Wilson, action hero. Speed bumps aside, Wilson has since found some wonderful turns in the works of Woody Allen (“Midnight In Paris”), Paul Thomas Anderson (“Inherent Vice”), and, of course, long time co-conspirator Wes Anderson.

Why he’d dip his toes back into the action movie waters in 2015 is just one of many questions that goes unanswered by “No Escape,” an anorexic survival-thriller whose high point is its old school title card. (It’s pretty neat.)

After a violent pre-title sequence that has little bearing on what follows, writer-director John Erick Dowdle (“As Above, So Below“) attaches his screenplay (co-written with his brother Drew) to a family of four moving to Laos. Jack Dwyer (Wilson) is middle management in an American water company, hesitantly relocating his wife Annie (Lake Bell, “Million Dollar Arm”) and two young daughters to Southeast Asia.

Soon after check-in, their resort becomes the epicenter of a bloody political coup, not only placing the Dwyer family in mortal danger but moviegoers in the middle of a farcically xenophobic fever dream.

If the movie were at all fresh, its casual racism and dearth of self-awareness might fade into the background. But since its foreigners-as-savages backdrop is used on a stock story cribbed from every other survival flick, it’s hard to look past. There’s so little else going on that we’re confronted with ugly stereotypes at every turn, all so an American family can delight us by not dying. (The less said about the pic’s ugly child-in-peril climax, the better.)

Wrapped up in the middle of this mess is Pierce Brosnan putting an umlaut on his signature role. Here he’s a goofy British spy, doing his best Michael Caine impression, invariably popping up every time the Dwyer family needs saving. His 15 minutes of screen time are some of the pic’s least terrible, but to ill effect – his character’s avalanche of late game exposition is even clumsier than all the poorly edited action that preceded it.

It’s hard to imagine a movie featuring both Owen Wilson looking longingly at wind chimes and Pierce Brosnan karaoking to Huey Lewis And The News’ “Heart And Soul” ending up so blithely uninteresting, but it is, wasting some pretty sturdy production values and an intriguing cast.

Excepting a handful of appreciated quirks, “No Escape” plays like an “Argo” rewrite by someone who heard about “Argo” from a friend who never saw “Argo.” For those who wouldn’t feel at home in the middle of a Venn diagram for insatiable action fans and xenophobes, this one’s a hard pass.

-J. Olson

Rating: ★ 1/2 out of ★★★★★ (Bad)

Release Date: August 26, 2015
Studio: The Weinstein Company
Director: John Erick Dowdle
Screenwriters: John Erick Dowdle, Drew Dowdle
Starring: Owen Wilson, Lake Bell, Pierce Brosnan
MPAA Rating: R (for strong violence throughout, and for language)