Some filmmakers should stay within their creative comfort zone. For writer/director John Erick Dowdle, the horror genre has been very good to him. Sure, As Above, So Below was awful, but previous efforts like The Poughkeepsie Tapes, the [REC] remake Quarantine, and the M. Night Syamalan-produced Devil were more than decent. Naturally, Dowdle has decided to expand his repertoire and the result is the ridiculous action thriller No Escape. If international intrigue was a hate crime, Dowdle and his co-writer brother Drew would be guilty as charged.
The story centers on a coup in an unnamed Asian country. Hours before, Owen Wilson’s Jack Dwyer and his family — wife Annie (Lake Bell), and daughters Lucy (Sterling Jerins) and Beeze (Claire Geare) — have just relocated to the region. They are instantly befriended by a British ex-pat (Pierce Brosnan, light years away from Bond) and soon discover that they are unwelcome in this world. As rebel forces go through their hotel killing people room by room, the Dwyers try to flee. They head to the roof, only to meet up with more rebels. They jump to another building. More rebels. From the American Embassy to a Buddhist Temple to a brothel, the Dwyers can find no safe haven. Then our Englishman reveals his secret. Groan.
Listen, No Escape is not without its charms. It’s fast-paced and loaded with action. That doesn’t mean it becomes an effective thriller. It just means that Dowdle has some chops, but we’ve established that already. No, the bigger problem here is the International Politics 101 that the movie uses to justify its various designs. Why are the rebels mad? Apparently, U.S. companies (and their pals) have come in and taken control of the only thing that matters to these people. No, not oil, or gold. It’s water. Talk about deserving your uprising punishment. Then there’s the whole “White People among the Natives” ideal. Jack is a good guy. His family is innocent. He’s just in the wrong place at the wrong time, and yet can’t seem to fathom why anyone would harm him. A little of this self-pity goes a very long way.
Brosnan does himself no favors either. He’s clearly hiding something, and the reveal is obvious to anyone familiar with this kind of film. They’re killing all foreigners and yet he’s still alive? No one knows what to do but he has hideaways and escape routes available? Sure. In fact, if you want to argue fails, the script becomes the first victim. You can tell what the Dowdles want to do. You can also see that such high-minded concepts are way beyond their reach. John also doesn’t understand his actors. He doesn’t get performances out of them so much as mannerisms, each one designed to be part of the overall plotting.
Putting kids in peril is the final straw, including one scene where a rebel wants Jack’s daughter to shoot him. We grow uncomfortable both with the threat to the child, and what’s being asked of her. It’s just another in a series of lowest common denominator designs from a duo who usually finds inventive ways to work within a genre. Perhaps everything here revolves around a paycheck. The Dowdles are apparently going back to horror, and Wilson and Bell are constantly in demand for much higher quality efforts. Sure, making a b-movie knockoff can be fun, especially if the location provides a paid vacation. No Escape offers no such resort.
It all comes down to overreaching. Jack Erick Dowdle and his brother Drew understand how to make people scream. They can even add in a creepy squirm or two. When it comes to driving butts to the edge of their seats, No Escape proves that they have that ability as well. Sadly, the next step is out of the theater before the running time is over.