I suppose I should be incensed over the rampant xenophobia and racism evidenced in No Escape. There’s certainly no shortage of it — I’ve seen Fu Manchu movies that weren’t this high on the “yellow peril” scale. Apart from a character known as Kenny Rogers (Sahajak Boonthatakit), I have no idea why any of the film’s Asian characters have names. Just billing them as “Scary Asian,” “Disposable Asian,” “Harmless Service Employee Asian” and, yes, “Inscrutable Asian,” and numbering them would do as well, since names are never actually used in the movie. However, the movie is just so damned dumb that it’s hard to take seriously enough to get worked up over. No Escape is from director co-writer John Erick Dowdle and his brother (and writing partner) Drew Dowdle, whose last movie was 2014’s entrance-to-hell horror stinker As Above, So Below. This one should have been called As Before, So It Goes. They’ve switched genres and gotten a better cast, but the only improvement of note is that this one is funnier — not, alas, on purpose.
Some viewers may remember Mr. Wilson’s last “dramatic” action movie performance in Behind Enemy Lines from 14 years ago. There is a very good reason why 14 years passed before he attempted another one — it is not something he’s very good at. His screen persona and deadpan dialogue delivery are at odds with them. Here, the Dowdle Brothers have at least managed to afford him a slightly more Wilsonian character — sort of. Wilson plays a clueless boob with a slightly less clueless wife (Lake Bell) and a couple of too-young-to-have-a-clue daughters (Sterling Jerins, Claire Geare). Since his own business in Texas has gone bust, he has uprooted himself and his family to work for some big corporation (about which he apparently knows nothing) at their operations in Carefully-Never-Named-Country in Asia (about which he also knows nothing). As luck, the needs of the script and the chicanery of the people he works for (along with US and UK governmental jiggery-pokery) would have it, a bloody revolution breaks out not long after his arrival. The idea that Wilson is out of his depth works. What follows is…well, something else again.
It’s not that this is inherently bad material — though it can hardly be called good. It’s that it has an inherent limitation, because all it allows for is a repetitive structure consisting of run, hide, fight back, run some more and on and on. The concept works for a while, but by the 30-minute mark, suspense gives way to tedium, especially since there’s very little doubt that this nice American family will escape in every reel. I suppose it works longer if you’re satisfied with endless scenes of carnage, cruelty and arterial spray. There’s no logic to any of it. At first, the film establishes that these blood-thirsty revolutionaries are especially interested in killing Americans in general, and Owen Wilson in particular (maybe they sat through Drillbit Taylor), but this doesn’t seem to matter much. The film is mostly just happy to shoot, stab, bludgeon, hack and flay anyone who wanders into the frame of its shaky-cam action scenes.
The only bright spot in this — apart from introducing the idea of tossing small-to-medium-sized children from rooftop to rooftop (the barroom “game” of dwarf-tossing better watch over its shoulder for this variant) — is Pierce Brosnan as an over-the-top seasoned veteran of Carefully-Never-Named-Country. He offers his help to the clueless Americans early on, enlivening the proceedings no end. Is he not what he seems? Is he really more than this overly-friendly, alcohol-soaked, libidinous expat? You can guess the answer, I’m sure, but who really cares? The film is just more interesting when he’s around. Unfortunately, he disappears for a long stretch, leaving us to mark time until his return. At least when he does return — unintentionally funny as it is — he proves to have been worth the wait. And he provides the film’s best scene. (OK, so it doesn’t take much to attain that accolade.) Otherwise, No Escape is just another failed August mediocrity — destined to come and go and be consigned to the heap of forgotten movies in short order. Rated R for strong violence including a sexual assault, and for language.