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Film Reviews No Escape: Family action thriller drags its altruistic feet

Owen Wilson plays Jack Dwyer, an engineer whose attempt at entrepreneurship back home in Texas has flopped

Roland Neveu

2 out of 4 stars

Title
No Escape
Written by
John Erick Dowdle, Drew Dowdle
Directed by
John Erick Dowdle
Starring
Owen Wilson, Lake Bell, Pierce Brosnan
Classification
14A
Country
USA
Language
English

Filmed in northern Thailand, director John Erick Dowdle's No Escape is a coup d'état family suspense thriller with a First World guilt complex. Oddly, it stars renowned nice guy Owen Wilson, whose gee-shucks demeanour feels at odds with the action-packed, gun-slinging genre.

Wilson plays Jack Dwyer, an engineer whose attempt at entrepreneurship back home in Texas has flopped. Tail between his legs, he finds himself on a plane heading to Southeast Asia to start again by working for a multinational corporation with his two apple-cheeked little girls and supportive wife, Annie (Lake Bell), in tow.

The film opens with the violent military coup – we see an unnamed head of state assassinated by a motley rebel army – but Jack and his family are oblivious as they descend into the terror from 39,000 feet. The film's opening sequence is the most appealing thanks to Wilson's ability to perform obliviousness better than any other actor I can think to name (it seems he always plays a version of Eli Cash, the coked-out, heart-of-gold cowboy from The Royal Tenenbaums). The morning after the Dwyer family's arrival, Jack goes out looking for a newspaper and wanders through the streets in a charmed daze. He passes a small drum circle, drops a few dollars at the players' feet (good guy that he is), and continues to meander through market streets, admiring wind chimes and the like. Walking through the foreign streets in his basic-bro, blue button-down shirt and khaki pants, it's as though he is reprising his role as hapless flâneur in Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris, but this time with an appetite for American altruism.

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No Escape has a funny relationship to charity and to the ethical stakes of large corporations doing business in developing nations. Take Jack, who thinks his new job is about bringing clean drinking water to millions, when, in fact, he learns (from a scruffy, whisky-drinking Pierce Brosnan) that the company is simply draining the natural resources of an impoverished country. Then there are Annie's feet. They are shod in the grey canvas of Toms shoes and featured prominently as she leaps and bounds through the film, narrowly escaping repeated assaults by the rebels. Annie's choice of footwear is the perfect marriage of capitalism and Western charity: When you buy a pair of these flimsy shoes, another pair is given to a poor kid somewhere. Consumerist desire is indulged, but the guilt it produces is placated by the Toms fantasy of goodwill and generosity. All for $48.

Lake Bell deserves better than No Escape. Annie shifts from a dynamic character – she is gentle but somewhat critical of her putz of a husband – to a woman whose most profound achievement and raison d'être is being a mother and wife. During their first night in the hotel Jack finds Annie crying in the bathroom, homesick and overwhelmed. In his self-absorption, Jack can't help but whine about how hard the move has been for him and of his fears of letting down the family. Just then, Annie lifts her heavy eyes and levels with him matter of factly: "I can't comfort you right now." Unfortunately, the brief insight Annie has into her husband's consuming ego dwindles throughout the film as her role as damsel in distress gains momentum.

Whatever seeds of social justice and emotional nuance No Escape may be attempting to sow are undercut by the film's melodramatic valorization of family values. Along the same saccharine lines as Annie's character, the daughters are often shot in soft focus as they literally cling to their parents for their precious lives.

No Escape suggests the real threat of violent revolution is to the American nuclear family, which would be better off trying its luck back in the good old (and politically stable) U.S. of A. So although Jack sprints through the movie always wanting to keep his family 10 steps ahead of danger, No Escape drags its well-intentioned, One-for-One feet.

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