No Escape

Genre: Action, Drama

Director: John Erick Dowdle

Screenplay: John Erick Dowdle, Drew Dowdle

Cast: Owen Wilson, Lake Bell, Pierce Brosnan, Sterling Jerins, Claire Geare

Running Length: 106 minutes

Synopsis: No Escape centres on an American businessman (Owen Wilson) as he and his family settle into their new home in Southeast Asia. Suddenly finding themselves in the middle of a violent political uprising, they must frantically look for a safe escape as rebels mercilessly attack the city.

Review: One of my pet movie peeves is when any director chooses to use the shakycam effect to convey a “visceral” sense of action – apart from the found footage genre, there’s really no need to put viewers through a discomfiting viewing experience. No Escape is the latest in a long, long line of movies that abuses the shakycam effect, and it really managed to mar the cinematic experience of an already rather mediocre film. There’s also the issue that the entire film drips of a rather unkind xenophobia, undoubtedly amplified by the fact that Asian viewers like myself don’t seem be one of the target demographics that the Dowdle brothers are aiming for.

Set in an resolutely unnamed Southeast Asian country (and the subject of a real-life controversy, as Khmer lettering was used upside down on the police shields in the film, leading to outrage and a ban in Cambodia), No Escape does deliver some thrills along the way, but requires the audience to not think about the plot at all, as it is riddled with holes and necessitates the cast members to behave in the most reckless way possible, putting themselves into peril so as to advance the plot. Both the rebels (namely one murderous mob, with the leader sporting a prominent facial scar, because that’s probably the only way the directors felt “the Asians” could be identified) and the resistance (namely Pierce Brosnan and his local sidekick) seem to show up with alarming precision and frequency. It’s amazing how a nationwide coup could be reduced to such a simplistic face-off.

Although the country is unnamed, there are some really ridiculous conventions that John Erick Dowdle stoops to, reducing the locals to nothing more than seemingly irrational, bloodthirsty murderers and rapists. There’s even a scene where the protagonists are scuttling through a den of vice, which includes young prostitutes and (I kid you not) what appears to be an opium den. It’s seriously mind boggling how Dowdle’s perception of Southeast Asia seems stuck at the turn of the 20th Century, instead of being more rooted in current-day sensibilities and realities. As a Southeast Asian viewer, I am honestly quite insulted by such a portrayal.

Put aside all the social commentary and the filming techniques, and we are indeed left with a half-decent movie, with a good number of taut set-pieces, especially in the first few reels of the film. Both Owen Wilson and Lake Bell put in relatively strong performances despite playing against type, though Pierce Brosnan seems to be in this one solely for the paycheck (to be fair, his screen time is fairly limited). No Escape does become increasingly unraveled along the way, culminating in a really ridiculous, anti-climactic denouement that fails to make much sense. However, in all likelihood, the audience would have ceased to care about the movie by then, and are simply looking to escape the cinema once the credits roll.

Rating: * ½ (out of four stars)

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