Thursday, August 27, 2015

Review: "No Escape"

A rather clumsy but also rather effective thriller, "No Escape" is a dark night's ride through a landscape of xenophobia and primal instincts. It's the sort of movie that accomplishes its mission but makes you feel a little slimy after watching it.

It's about an American family who land in some unnamed Southeast Asian country to start a new life with dad working for a benevolent U.S. company building a plant to provide drinking water for the spectacularly ungrateful natives, who launch a coup almost the minute they get to their hotel and start hunting foreigners for summary execution.

There's more to it, of course. Director John Erick Dowdle ("Quarantine"), who co-write the script with brother Drew, throws in suggestions that the Western spooks and suits have been here for some time, ripening up the ground for economic enslavement. Hey, somebody says, maybe all those leering marauders shooting American tourists in the back of the head are just freedom fighters standing up for their own children!

I'm guessing this is supposed to make us feel better about cheering when the yanks smash in the face of some anonymous bandana-wearing thug. Today's globally-themed disposable entertainment comes conveniently embedded with its own white guilt.

Owen Wilson and Lake Bell play the parents, and they're the best things about the movie. They're likeable and emotionally identifiable figures, and both have faces that are fascinating to watch in the way their beauty seems to transgress every supposed rule of how attractive people are supposed to look. I'm guessing a bunch of people told them they were ugly as teenagers, and look at 'em now.

Like Gerard Depardieu's, Wilson's nose boasts more interesting topography than most mountain ranges, with clefts, ravines and humpback rises. Thank God the plastic surgeons never got ahold of him.

Sterling Jerins and Claire Geare play the daughters, and they're good eggs, adorable when needed and whiny just when the story needs them to make noise when the bad guys are trolling nearby. Pierce Brosnan plays a scarred, debauched Irishman who offers a little help at the airport, and then a little more down the line. These days when Brosnan turns up in a movie, we just assume he's got a Walther PPK or a wristwatch laser stashed somewhere.

The bulk of the movie is essentially just one big long chase, as mom and dad try to get the kids to safety while avoiding the roving, random bands of bad guys. They end up making for the border with Vietnam to seek asylum ... Vietnam! You can practically feel the filmmakers poking us with the irony stick.

Look, I understand the rules better than most about how movies manipulate us, and the ways we are driven to root for the protagonists by having the villains do nasty things to them. But I'm uncomfortable with the way this picture uses Asian heavies as faceless boogums barely indistinguishable from each other.

The Americans wander around, stupidly trying to speak English to everybody, while the natives chatter away like inscrutable monkeys. Since the movie never even bothers to give the country a made-up name or language, they're literally generic hostile "foreigners."

(It was shot in Thailand, for what that's worth.)

The Americans are the naive innocents, of course, caught up in some overseas intrigue that interests them only so much as it threatens them. You get the sense that the dad's first call after the tragedy will be not to relatives to assure their safety but to his company to see if his relocation bonus check will still clear.

"No Escape" is visceral, nail-biting and sure to entertain. Your instructions are to shriek at the scary Orientals, and try not to think too much about it afterward.

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