Film Review | No Escape

Aggressively mediocre and unrepentantly racist, this 'Taken' pastiche may count a former James Bond among its cast, but the only thing it manages to import from that franchise is its unpleasant politics.

No escape from mediocrity: Pierce Brosnan and Owen Wilson
No escape from mediocrity: Pierce Brosnan and Owen Wilson

Liam Neeson has a lot to answer for. The ‘Taken’ saga of kidnap-revenge films that transformed the Irish actor into a bona fide action hero in the latter part of his career ended up being so lucrative, that it not only spawned two logic-defying sequels, but now also appears to have been spiraled into a Hollywood subgenre in its own right.

It appears to be ‘no escape’ for this tried-and-tested trope then, indeed, as director John Eric Dawdle (As Above, So Below; Devil; Quarantine) hops on aboard the bandwagon, taking former James Bond Pierce Brosnan and unlikely action star Owen Wilson into the fray with him.

When American engineer Jack Dwyer (Owen Wilson) is transferred to Southeast Asia – crucially, an exact country is never specified – along with his wife Annie (Lake Bell) and their two young daughters, he imagines things will proceed largely business-as-usual.

But when the family settle into their exotic new location, they find themselves caught in the middle of a political uprising. With their only ally being fellow expat Hammond (Pierce Brosnan), Jack tries to keep his family safe from the crossfire.

But things heat up further when Jack realizes that they would not only be innocent bystanders. The angry mob aren’t just a brainless, ruthless militia – they are protesting the excesses of companies like Dwyer’s employers Cardiff, whose water-mining excesses have driven many locals to the edge of poverty.

You don’t have to be a bleeding-heart lefty to pick up on the film’s suspect racist overtones. Never mind the fact that the setting isn’t even dignified with an exact location, being a vague, unspecified collage of the dark and exotic ‘Far East’.

The rebels are never even viewed as human beings at all, and even when their cause is explained-away later on in the film, it comes from the mouth of a supposedly repentant expat. However, Dawdle’s pedigree is horror, and it’s hardly surprising that the threat to the Dwyer family is portrayed as a horde of rampaging zombies more than anything else.

However, nearly any amount of political incorrectness could be forgiven if the end result is compelling. But No Escape comes forward with nothing particularly new or exciting to throw into the mix.

It’s a perfect example of the kid of lowest common denominator ‘slow season’ filler that will generally find an audience, but whose most comfortable home would either be the DVD rental shop or late-night TV slot – something to consume when you can’t be bothered to look for anything better.

This is precisely the problem with riding on prevailing Hollywood trends: ticking the right boxes might help you put a movie together with relative ease and just about get your money back, but in the end it is the audience that ends up short-changed.

To this end, Dawlde and his collaborators are more than happy to coast through with stage-managed-to-a-fault thrills. Save for a particularly unpleasant – though also facile and over-the-top – set piece near the end, the action is rote, peppered across the film as if by on/off switch: loud bit, quiet bit – repeat. Which is a shame, because Dawlde does show evidence of being competent at manipulating mood and tension.

The first instance of the rebel attack that we see – through Jack’s eyes – is a truly frightening, immersive sight. Disoriented and annoyed by lackluster hotel service, Jack steps out of the hotel room in search of an American newspaper, only to emerge to a raging stampede just at the shop’s doorstep…

Ultimately, however, Dawlde is let down by an uninspired script… which he happens to have written with his brother Drew. The optimist may assume that this whole project is a stepping-stone for the sibling pair, and that they opted to go for this easy-and-lucrative route to secure some funds (and, perhaps more importantly, charm Hollywood higher-ups) in aid of a more interesting future project.

As it stands, perhaps the only interesting nugget to emerge from all this is the cheeky employment of Pierce Brosnan as the grizzled but resourceful Englishman, Hammond. A twist towards the end reveals him to essentially be a re-tread of the role that made him world famous, and it’s fun to ponder whether this counts an ‘alternative’ take on James Bond.

But this is slim pickings at best, and can’t disguise the fact that the rest of the cast is criminally wasted. Generally an interesting, intelligent presence, Lake Bell is reduced to being the mewling, complaining wife who is only there to be menaced or near-raped, until she can apply some convenient display of force at the eleventh hour.

And it seems as though Owen Wilson hasn’t learnt his lesson either. America’s perennial quirky nice guy just doesn’t do terribly well in action thrillers. For evidence, check out the equally bargain-bin worthy Behind Enemy Lines (2000).

Yes, the Taken saga has plenty to answer for. Just when you thought its third and allegedly final chapter has released us from its gaping maw, in comes yet another piece of racially offensive and formally mediocre tripe. Hang on, that’s exactly what I wrote in the first paragraph… seems like the threat of repetition is catching.   

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