Atypical casting and xenophobia are alive and well in the white-knuckle thriller “No Escape.”
Owen Wilson, Lake Bell and their two daughters travel to an unnamed Southeast Asian country for business to unfortunately arrive as the country descends into chaos as a group of extremists enforce a coup. Their luxury hotel comes under attack by hordes of vigilantes hell-bent on killing every American. The family must drop the niceties of their comfortable lifestyle and do whatever it takes – including savagely defending themselves – to get safely out of the country.
With “Devil,” “Quarantine” and “As Above, So Below,” writer/director John Erick Dowdle has fine-tuned his thriller chops allowing “No Escape” to evolve into a compact, efficient no-holds-barred thriller that suffers slightly from some cultural insensitivities. His script, written along with his brother Drew, has little fat, focusing on the hide-and-seek format as the family attempts to flee the country undetected. The emotional core comes from the quick, but believable, familial relationship during the brief exposition prior to the violent revolt.
The casting is quite perfect, actually. One would never expect Owen Wilson to lead a taught action flick (he did star in the 2001 war drama “Behind Enemy Lines”) but his presence alone gives this film solid footing and provides even greater suspense. From the start, Wilson is immediately likable and relatable. He is his usual affable self, a doting father to two pre-teen daughters and husband to a very patient wife. The family banters, bickers and goofs around on their trip to their new home. And most importantly, he is as American as they come, which eventually makes him an easy target. But it's his ease and affability that will draw the audience in because when the tension starts to boil and the violence erupts it is impossible to not hope his family survives unscathed.
But that’s also something many may find insensitive within the film. This Third World country could find itself in utter ruin, its inhabitants smote by terrorists, but at least the nice white American family is A-Okay.
Lake Bell, like Wilson, grounds the heightened reality with an easily relatable character. She is the “every mom:” impatient with her husband but viciously protective when her kids are put in danger. The character doesn’t allow Bell to make any significant leaps but she is a fine actor and is able to display her talented range from light comedic banter to ferocious action star.
Oh, and as an afterthought, Pierce Brosnan shows up to explain why everything is happening with a brief 15-second anti-American message. Wilson works for a major international corporation to provide clean water in third-world countries. But the company is actually creating more debt for the country, allowing Cardiff (Wilson's employer) to exert more power and control within the government. So the country revolts, stages a coup, executes the prime minister and targets all the Americans.
If this movie does nothing else, “No Escape” doubles down on xenophobia as it quietly slips away into movie obscurity.
The Weinstein Company. Rated R. Running time: 1 hour and 41 minutes.