For the first time in nearly fifteen years, shaggy-haired comic actor Owen Wilson steps into a dramatic role, playing an everyman embroiled in a deadly political uprising in “No Escape,” an international thriller costarring Lake Bell (“Million Dollar Arm”) and Pierce Brosnan.
Directed by John Erick Dowdle (“Quarantine”), who co-wrote the script with his brother Drew Dowdle, this family crisis film is a mostly disposable late-summer release that has some solid action but is undercut by too many emotionally manipulative moments. Preying on audience’s worst fears of third-world countries serves its dramatic purposes in the script, but in watching “No Escape” hopscotch from one dire dilemma to another, viewers will struggle to latch onto any overarching message to take home with them. Luckily, the steady stream of action succeeds in distracting viewers from the screenplay’s shortcomings, and the cast is likeable and relatable enough to give audiences a rooting interest in their overseas ordeal.
In “No Escape,” Wilson plays Jack Dwyer, a family man and engineer who is hired to oversee the Southeast Asian branch of a US-based water supply corporation. Despite his wife’s (Lake Bell) concerns about living overseas and uprooting their daughters (Sterling Jerins and Claire Geare), Jack is confident the move will be good for all involved. However, while the family is en route, and for reasons that aren’t initially clear, the Prime Minister of the unnamed country they’re traveling to is assassinated by rebel forces.
When the Dwyer’s arrive at their destination, the country’s instability isn’t overwhelmingly obvious, though their hotel’s lack of certain basic amenities does raise some eyebrows. But soon thereafter, while out getting the lay-of-the-land, Jack sees the political unrest firsthand when he wanders into the crosshairs of a firefight between rebels and police. Noticing that the rebels are also targeting Americans, Jack races back to his hotel to protect his family.
As the carnage continues, and the Dwyer’s struggle to maintain their humanity, it’s revealed that the company Jack works for caused the uprising by privatizing the country’s water supply for financial gain, making him public enemy number one. When their plan to seek a safe haven at the US embassy falls through, they’re forced to rely on a British intelligence officer masquerading as a tourist (Pierce Brosnan) to sneak them across the border.
It’s hard to criticize a film like “No Escape” that wears its “family is important” platitudes on its sleeve without coming across as coldhearted. However, when the filmmakers so shamelessly milk every dangerous situation the characters encounter, it bears mentioning. From the overdone score by Marco Beltrami and Buck Sanders to the slo-mo action sequences, every opportunity to tug at the audience’s heartstrings is exploited to the fullest. Moreover, one would think that a story about Americans caught up in third-world unrest would come equipped with a strong political message, but here all we get is the equivalent of “greed is bad,” exposing the setting as little more than a sufficiently perilous backdrop. Story flaws aside, the Dowdle brothers mainly concern themselves with the Dwyer family’s minute-by-minute struggle for survival, and they provide enough heart-stopping moments to satisfy the average moviegoer.
As he demonstrated back in 2001 with “Behind Enemy Lines,” Owen Wilson has the necessary talents to take on an action role, and despite occasionally veering into melodrama, here he serves as an effective everyman. In the role of his distraught wife, Lake Bell handles the drama with equal aplomb, proving she’s more than capable of stepping out of the rom-com roles in which she’s normally cast. Last and least, Pierce Brosnan basically sleepwalks his way through his screen time as the mysterious tourist who swoops in to rescue the Dwyer’s.
By Lucas Mirabella
Rated R for strong violence throughout, and for language.
Running Time: 103 minutes