No Escape

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Wednesday August 26, 2015

Pierce Brosnan and Owen Wilson star in 'No Escape'
Pierce Brosnan and Owen Wilson star in 'No Escape'  (Source:The Weinstein Company)

The terror of societal breakdown finds its way to movies and television in two major ways. If it's a domestic situation -- that is, civilization collapses within our own borders -- it's generally due to some sort of plague, usually of zombies but occasionally (as with the FX original series "The Strain") vampires or even, once in a while, garden variety microbes (as in Steven Soderbergh's 2011 drama "Contagion"). But if it's a matter of society imploding into a frenzy of blood lust due to social or political pressures the lenses tend to point away from the homeland and focus elsewhere because, really, revolutionary slaughter in the streets is just so Anywhere Else.

So it is with John Eric Dowdle's new thriller, "No Escape," which blends the "American Family in Peril Abroad" trope from "The Impossible" with plenty of good old fashioned indiscriminate butchery. The film opens with the assassination of the prime minister of a nation in Southeast Asia (there's a fleeting reference in the film's dialogue to the country being Malaysia, but otherwise the locale is left vague). That very same evening an American family arrives in country, looking forward to starting a new life abroad.

The Dwyers are four in number: Jack (Owen Wilson), Annie (Lake Bell), and their young daughters Lucie (Sterling Jerens) and Beeze (Claire Geare). They immediately link up with a slightly sketchy Brit named Hammond (Pierce Brosnan), who turns out to be their salvation: They haven't even had breakfast the next day when machete-wielding hordes of screaming locals come marching up the streets looking to spill American blood. Hammond, it turns out, knows his way around a coup.

What starts out as a promising storyline -- naive Americans abroad, raging chaos, incomprehensible situations around every corner, dangers both immediately physical and politically abstract, and a specter of first world economic imperialism lurking in the background -- degenerates into a series of increasingly desperate brushes with death. Near-suicidal leaps off high buildings and ill-advised hand-to-hand grapplings with armed, adrenaline-pumped sadists alternate with surreal scenes in which mobs prowl the city by night under the red light of flares and newly-made allies provide impromptu rooftop dinner service.

The proceedings never exactly depart the realm of the physically plausible, but the movie is quick to leave probability behind. As any world traveler will tell you, getting from Point A to Point B is not always as smooth a process as it might be, but even moviegoers who have bought tickets looking for thrills expect the journey to make some sort of sense and not completely rely on fortuitous timing (exploding embassies, last-minute rescues, and the handy availability of a shovel or other bludgeon-worthy implement all play somewhat less than credible parts in this tale).

Grounding the film to some extent is Owen Wilson, doing his Owen Wilson thing; he's a nice guy who thinks he's come to Wherever-The-Hell-This-Is in order to help. When he finds out that the people he's working for have more or less brought this situation down on him, his idealistic notions take a back seat and it's only natural that he embraces Hammond's sage advice: "There's no bad or good here," the somewhat tousled Brit observes. "There's just Get Your Family Out of Here." But such pragmatism is only a Band-Aid on the film's underlying presumptions. American Nuclear Family Exceptionalism is the fantasy on offer here, and everything else -- thin plotting and cardboard characters included -- function only in support of that wishful thinking.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.