Tuesday, September 1, 2015

NO ESCAPE (2015)

Rated: R

STARS: Owen Wilson, Lake Bell, Pierce Brosnan
DIRECTOR: John Erick Dowdle

Appreciate a good plot? Not the movie for you. Enjoy character development? Not the movie for you. Like balls-to-the-wall action in an edge of your seat thriller?  Si, senor, this da movie for you! Which means that after the prologue and the who, what, when, and where have been established, No Escape is essentially one long continuous action sequence.

Texas businessman Jack Dwyer (Owen Wilson), his wife, Annie (Lake Bell), and their two young daughters have arrived in an unspecified southeast Asian country, where he has been transferred by his company. Just in time for the assassination of the prime minister and a revolution in the making. Bands of roving killers sweep through the streets, invading the tourist hotels and executing Americans and their sympathizers on the spot. (It seems they don't like us.) 

 Jack finds himself careening through the streets with an angry mob in pursuit. He must make it back to the hotel and collect his family and get the hell outta Dodge. If they can. And that's what No Escape is about. They run and jump from rooftop to rooftop, from alleyway to alleyway, dodging bullets. An expatriate they have befriended, named Hammond (Pierce Brosnan), falls in with them and is able to provide some cover fire. He may be ex-CIA. Or he may just be M.I.A. In a rare moment where the five of them are able to catch their breath, he intimates--in so many words--that all the stink is a reaction to American Imperialism. (So what else is new?) 

A deeper film might have explored some of the politics behind the turmoil, but that is not the intent here. The movie knows what it wants to do, and it's good at what it does. The only story question being: Will they survive? (Much like Robert Redford in All Is Lost.)  Unfortunately, it is telegraphed who is going to make it and who isn't (for anyone who has seen three movies and can put two and two together). Predictability in a film can be a bummer and make it just another ho-hummer, but things are moving so fast, and you came here primarily to get your adrenaline pumping anyway, so you're not going to dwell on it. 

Owen Wilson, with his basset hound mug (and I mean that in the nicest possible way), seems a peculiar choice for the part of a man who will be thrust into the role of becoming a do-or-die hero, but he grows on you. Lake Bell grows on you too. She doesn't possess Angelina Jolie features, but she has a presence that I find appealing, and sexy even. So I'm going looking for more of her work. 

Grade:  B


A nail-biter from start to finish. (And if you don't bite your nails? You will by the time this film ends.) The thing that impressed me was how the suspense kept building. And speaking of buildings, the scene where they have to heave their kids onto another roof to escape the angry mob is truly heart-stopping. (It's in every trailer of the movie so I'm not ruining anything.) Usually in these chase movies, I get bored after awhile. Not this time. Whether Owen Wilson's terrified family is running through an unfamiliar city, a blown-up hotel, or a bombed out American Embassy, the tension created is relentless.   

Who is director/screenwriter John Eric Dowdle and what has done in the past? Not much. A third place award from the Fangoria Chainsaw Awards for directing and writing As Above, So Below (2014). This tells me he knows his way around cinematic scariness. And he's only 42. So I look forward to more of his directorial efforts.

As for what I didn't like? At one point, the Pierce Brosnan character gives a lengthy explanation of why American corporations are to blame for all this unrest. Ho hum. When I'm on the edge of my seat, completely wrapped up in a "will-they-or-won't-they-escape" drama, I don't need a sermon. Another thing that made No Escape great escapist entertainment was the use of silence. Although Marco Beltrami and Buck Sanders are credited with writing the musical score, it was sparingly used -- to great effect.

Grade: B +