Thursday, August 27, 2015

In Theaters: NO ESCAPE (2015)

(US - 2015)

Directed by John Erick Dowdle. Written by John Erick Dowdle and Drew Dowdle. Cast: Owen Wilson, Lake Bell, Pierce Brosnan, Sterling Jerins, Claire Geare, Sahajak Boonthanakit. (R, 103 mins)

NO ESCAPE was originally titled THE COUP when it was scheduled for release in early 2015, but was sent back for some retooling and a title change when stupid test audiences didn't know the meaning of the word "coup." That damning example of real-world IDIOCRACY proves to be the most memorable thing about a largely generic action movie that constantly sabotages itself with bad editing, ill-advised slo-mo, and a complete leave from reality every time it gets some honest, serious momentum going. Filmed in Thailand and obviously set there even though all references to the country have been removed by the Weinstein Co. lest they risk offending a sizable portion of the always-lucrative Asian box office, NO ESCAPE takes place in a now-unidentified far east country where American engineer Jack Dwyer (Owen Wilson) is moving his family when his new employer, a corporate mega-conglomerate called Cardiff, ships him and two others to take charge of a clean-water project. Jack lost his last job in Austin, TX and while he and wife Annie (Lake Bell) and daughters Lucy (Sterling Jerins) and "The Beeze" (Claire Geare) aren't ecstatic about the move, it was the best offer he had. It's a bad omen when the Dwyers arrive and the TV and electricity are out, and no one from Cardiff has made any attempt to meet him at the airport or touch base with him after his arrival. While walking around the business district near the hotel, Jack finds himself in a middle of a riot when armed revolutionaries take on the police and the military.  The Prime Minister, friendly to American business interests, has been assassinated and his regime toppled, and the revolutionaries are coming specifically for the Cardiff engineers to show the company that they aren't welcome. Jack sees one of the engineers shot in the head, and the revolutionaries pursue him through the streets and through the hotel, forcing the family to do everything they can to survive the siege, get out of the hotel, and somehow make it to the US Embassy.

There are quite a few solid, intense sequences throughout NO ESCAPE, but they're consistently undermined by the film's stretching of time to suit its own needs: when the Dwyers make their way to the roof of the hotel and decide they need to jump to the neighboring building, it provides some serious nailbiting suspense until you notice how absurdly long it's taking for the revolutionaries to get across the roof in an attempt to stop them. And when they finally do, the only person who gets shot is the nameless local schlub with no dialogue who dutifully helps the Americans only to get shot in the back for his selfless efforts, tumbling off the ledge and going splat on the ground ten stories down. The prologue showing the Prime Minister's assassination is a complete botch, with some incredibly slapdash editing that makes it appear the PM has somehow made it to the clear opposite end of the hotel in a matter of seconds (Kevin Smith associate Scott Mosier gets a prominent "Additional editing by" credit in the closing crawl, indicating that he was likely brought in to sort out a mess). When the revolutionaries are taking over the hotel, it's chaos wherever they are, but business as usual where they aren't, sometimes alternating from floor to floor--if they've already worked their to hacking people to pieces way up to the eighth floor, then how are things calm and normal on the fourth, where Lucy is swimming in the pool?  The film's most ridiculous scene has all four family members covering their faces with scarves and hopping on a moped and slowly moving through a huge crowd of anti-American protesters undetected, all of them failing to notice Jack's blond hair dangling out of his hat. The Dwyers basically go from building to building in their trek to the American Embassy, and sometimes the streets are filled with rioters and sometimes they're empty--depends on what the filmmakers want to do in that particular scene.

NO ESCAPE is directed by John Erick Dowdle, who co-wrote with his brother Drew. The team, aka The Brothers Dowdle, are best known for their horror movies like the [REC] remake QUARANTINE (2008), the M. Night Shyamalan-produced DEVIL (2010), and the found-footage AS ABOVE, SO BELOW (2014). The Dowdles bring that horror sensibility to a number of sequences in which they let the suspense build, like letting Jack's ride up a slow elevator to the eighth floor play out in real time with the camera planted on Wilson's face, which does a very effective job of cranking up the tension since we have no idea what awaits him when those doors open. But there's just too much implausible silliness, like the way they're always hiding in plain sight underneath a table or something as the bad guys wander right on by. NO ESCAPE also drops the ball by squandering Pierce Brosnan in what amounts to little more than an extended cameo as a gregarious, hard-drinking mystery man named Hammond, who knows the country and offers some helpful tips to Jack. Brosnan is absent for a long stretch after his first early appearance, where he makes a memorable impression belting out a karaoke version of Huey Lewis' "Heart and Soul." It's obvious that he'll come into play later, but even when he does, he isn't well-utilized. Brosnan delivers a colorful, enjoyable turn as Hammond that sees him riffing on his wildly-praised-at-the-time but largely forgotten performance in THE MATADOR (2005), and his scenes with Thai actor Sahajik Boonthanakit, as Hammond's cab driving buddy Kenny Rogers (his cab business is named "Kenny Roger Taxi") are a lot of fun. The Dowdles should've made better use of both of them instead of scene after scene of Wilson saying "Now, come on girls, we've gotta stick together!" when the daughters complain that they're hungry or have to go potty, or repeatedly do things that put the family's lives in danger. NO ESCAPE doesn't really have enough depth to offer any sort of commentary (nor does it explore the sinister suggestion that the execs at Cardiff, who never do make contact with Jack, have left him there to die), so what you're left with is a rather run-of-the-mill, VOD-ready, end-of-summer action movie that doesn't seem to hang together all that well. On the plus side, it's never boring and there's enough to keep it briskly entertaining, but it just seems content to do the bare minimum it needs to do to get by, and sometimes not even that much.

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