No Escape is a rare excursion into serious drama for Owen Wilson, and it’s now available to stream or buy. It’s also offensive, tedious and a test of audience endurance despite being an average 103 minutes long.
The film follows American Jack Dwyer, wife Annie (Lake Bell), and daughters Lucy (Sterling Jerins) and Briegel Dwyer (Claire Geare) as they fly into an unnamed Asian country so that Jack can start a new job. Unfortunately for them, we know it’s doomed due to the B Movie film title, the fortuitous encounter with British passenger Hammond (Pierce Brosnan), and the fact director John Erick Dowdle has already shown the assassination of the Prime Minister of the aforementioned anonymous Asian country.
Director John Ericke Dowdle and brother Drew wrote the screenplay inspired by a non-violent coup in Thailand. But rather than any interesting historical relevance or insight, Dowdle tries to add gravitas by a seemingly endless succession of slow motion sequences. Every excuse is used, from a thoughtful Owen Wilson to anonymous Asian life.
And having established the entire personality of the Dwyer family in one quick exchanges asking why Annie Dwyer would bring a rice cooker when moving to Asia, there’s just enough time for another Brosnan encounter before an extremely violent coup begins.
By this point, you may already have a shopping list of questions about the plot. Why would Jack bring his entire family to a foreign country on his first work visit, for example? Why have none of the family taken a single lesson in whatever language the sterotypical Asian country speaks? How have they not picked up a single guide book or Googled where the hotel is, what city they’re in, or the fact that the first line of taxi drivers at an airport might be less than trustworthy?
But all of that pales into insignificance as the coup begins. Because Dowdle and his brother are better known for their horror films (Quarantine, Devil and As Above, So Below), it seems that they applied the same approach when dealing with the political and human motivation for a nation to rise in a coup d’etat.
So almost every Asian is portrayed as a senseless violent killer or occasionally as a benign bystander. That’s the sum total of insight into the coup itself, beyond a short Brosnan monologue in an oddly mangled Estuary accent which explains that actually the Asians are just trying to look after themselves and their families, and they’re alright really, but you should still shoot them to escape.
Then again, the film was shot in Thailand and is very loosely based on events in the country in 2006. And many of the extras are speaking to each other in Thai. Yet signage and other details suggest Cambodia with Khmer writing.
So it’s no surprise that a mangled mixture of Thai and Cambodian coups, details and language have been merged in service of an American director who wanted to create a serious drama, but ended up making a B-movie which could have used zombies instead of the Asian characters.
It’s a shame for the cast. Wilson does a reasonable job of portraying a relatively average family guy forced into action to save his family. He even keeps a straight face during the slow motion hurling of his children from a rooftop to apparent safety. The female Dwyers are very much the supporting cast, but they manage to add some character to the relatively meagre contributions they’re allowed to make. And you could possibly excuse Brosnan if you portrayed it as a quick cameo rather than an actual acting role.
But ultimately, it’s a bigger shame for the audience. If you wanted to actually understand the experience of Cambodia, the 1984 Academy and BAFTA Awards winning drama The Killing Fields is moving, masterful and features a survivor to the Khmer Rouge labour camps in a starring role.
And it’s also possible for Hollywood to create an interesting political thriller, even if the likes of Argo did take a few liberties with the facts for the sake of the story.
No Escape aims for the low road, and doesn’t even manage a good job of that. You’d have more fun watching Escape from New York, and Owen Wilson shared more insight into Asian culture when he co-starred with Jackie Chan in Shanghai Knights.