How far will one man go to protect the ones he cares about most in the world? An intense international thriller, No Escape centers on an American businessman (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. Directed by John Erick Dowdle and written together with his brother Drew, No Escape stars Owen Wilson, Pierce Brosnan and Lake Bell.
Constructing a thriller is like choreographing a dance routine, you have to have some basic recognizable steps that the audience will know and feel comfortable with, but at the same time, you need to find a way to break away from what has been done before. You can play it safe and make your story the premise for a solid and simple B-Movie and still be good. 2010's 'Unstoppable' for example is a simple B-Movie premise plastered together with big-budget fanfare. Then you have a movie like 2015's 'No Escape' directed and co-written by John Erick Dowdle and co-written by Drew Dowdle that takes the basic "man on the run" survival concept but forgets to give us a reason to care for the main characters' survival.
The Dwyer family has packed up all of their belongings, left their comfortable rural Texas home, and are moving to Southeast Asia (no actual country is ever given). Jack (Owen Wilson) is an engineer that has been hired by a large western-owned corporation called Cardiff to handle this nondescript Asian nation's new waterworks facility. Because Jack's own company went "belly up," this means he was forced to move his wife Annie (Lake Bell) their daughter Lucy (Sterling Jerins) and the rambunctious Beeze (Claire Geare) away from the world they know and love. Things are uncomfortable, but not intolerable as Jack makes a quick connection with a fellow ex-pat named Hammond (Pierce Brosnan) and the two spark up a sort of friendship. Little is Jack aware that he and his family have moved into a simmering political hotbed of corruption and revolution.
Once settled in their hotel, the Dwyer family takes a little time to adjust to their surroundings, but they're putting on a brave face. The next morning, Jack heads out into this strange new land to find an English newspaper, but he is completely unaware that the country he's just moved his family to has just had its Prime Minister assassinated and is in the depths of a coup d'état. After narrowly escaping a brutal battle between revolutionaries and state forces, Jack arrives back to his hotel in time to see the revolutionaries executing a white man on the building's steps. By climbing up a fire escape, Jack is able to reconnect with his family and get them up onto the roof where they're under the belief that someone will come help them.
Little does Jack know that the roof will be but one place he and his family will have to escape from. As their morning turns into an all-day odyssey of terror, Jack, Annie, Lucy, and Beeze will have to rely on the goodwill of strangers, the darker talents of their new friend Hammond, as well as their base survival instincts if they hope to make it to the Viet Nam border alive. The only thing standing in their way is an army of revolutionaries who know Jack's face and his association with Cardiff and want him - and his family - dead.
'No Escape' is a simple movie at heart. It's not meant to be over thought, nor should it be a product that inspires one to think about their place in the economic strife that grips countries around the world - but apparently the Dowdle brothers didn't get that message. 'No Escape' is one of those movies where its underlying message about Western involvement in the global marketplace and the negative effects of that position is the movie's heavy-handed focus rather than it actually being focused on telling a convincing and heartfelt story of survival. From the get go the film tows the line that "big companies are bad" because Cardiff didn't fail during the economic downturn and Jack's did - thus the reason this family must leave hearth and home behind for an alien existence in some far off land. Add in the political turmoil of nondescript Asian country conveniently located right down the street from Viet Nam, and you've got the makings of a political farce in the disguise of a B-Movie thriller.
At its core, 'No Escape' is the Emilio Estevez, Dennis Leary starring film 'Judgment Night' from 1993. Innocent people stumble into a random bad situation and have to run through strange places from bad people in order to survive. Had 'No Escape' stayed true to this formula, had it not decided to shoehorn in a half-hearted political statement, the film could have worked beautifully. Unfortunately, after a prolonged opening assassination sequence, the film fails to hold onto any real tension for very long and then proceeds in a series of unfulfilling starts and stops.
Part of the film's big issues with establishing tension and building suspense and escalating the dire situations through the film is the fact that the Dwyer family just isn't that compelling or interesting. We get so little time to know who they are, their history, or why this move to nondescript Asian country could be a good or a bad thing that it just leaves questions about them dangling and leaves them as weak protagonists. We just learn the basic dynamic of the foursome and we're left to hold onto the idea that Jack and Annie are parents with two little kids and that's the sole reason we're supposed to care. For the first twenty minutes or so after the world around Jack, Annie, and their daughters fell apart that idea works, but once the family manages a death-defying escape from the hotel roof, it's all downhill towards a series of predictable narrow escapes.
The cast isn't to blame for this outcome either. I knew several people that thought the idea of Owen Wilson playing "Action Dad" was a silly concept, but the man delivers one of his best performances in years. Likewise for Lake Bell, her Annie is a conflicted but dedicated wife/mother who will do anything for her family. Had we gotten to know these people better, had we gotten to see them evolve to their new surroundings a little and acclimate and get comfortable, the drama and suspense this movie tries to bring would have landed beautifully. But because the family, and therefor the actors, never really get comfortable and likewise the audience never gets comfortable with them, it becomes difficult to worry about their situation. Not helping matters is Pierce Brosnan as Hammond. Brosnan is great, don't get me wrong, but his character is a runny egg in an undercooked omelet. We know little about him, we dig his flashy no-frills bawdy style, but when he's called upon to be an action hero with a big confession to make, it's all too little too late to care.
'No Escape' is a movie I very much wanted to like because this sort of B-Movie thriller is my cinematic bread and butter. I love simple movies with easy plots that just do what they're there to do and they do it well. Sadly, 'No Escape' is a movie that didn't run for very long before I started re-writing and re-editing the thing in my head. As someone who isn't relatively difficult to please with their entertainment needs, I have a tough time forgiving a movie that just doesn't take the time to convincingly setup its central characters and story beyond events happening out of coincidence and convenience. In gymnastics terms, 'No Escape' looked great coming off the jump, but it blunders the routine and fails to stick the landing.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'No Escape' arrives on Blu-ray from Anchor Bay and is pressed on a Region A locked BD25 disc. Housed in a two disc case with identical slip cover, the Blu-ray comes with DVD of the film as well as an Ultraviolet Digital HD voucher. The disc opens to some trailers before reaching the main menu.
'No Escape' transitions to Blu-ray with an intermittently strong-looking and at times disappointing 1.85:1 1080p transfer. One moment the film is well detailed with stable colors and is a real beauty in HD, then the next scene can appear soft with muddy colors and appear outright soupy. Throughout the movie, detail levels are relatively strong but they have a tendency to fluctuate quite a bit. Colors are pretty solid with some strong primary pop - especially during the daylight scenes - but some sequences appear to have pushed the reds so blood actually looks more like a pinkish raspberry color and flesh tones can appear either pale and pasty or pink. Black levels also fluctuate quite a bit as they never appear solid or inky once the main feature gets rolling creating an image that never really has a sense of depth to it. Overall this is a serviceable transfer that gets the job done, but it's also a bit of a letdown for a film of such a recent vintage.
Where 'No Escape' scores big is with it's English DTS-HD MA 5.1 sound mix. From the subtle quieter moments on the airplane, to the hotel the Dwyers are staying at, to the hotel's karaoke bar, to the squaller-ridden streets outside, the atmosphere of this track is constantly alive and present. Every scene is littered with notable auditory subtleties that kept the surrounds engaged in pleasant ways that don't always call attention to themselves. When the action starts and things get crazy, the track likewise keeps the pace and never falters. When some quieter conversation moments creep in, the track handles the levels beautifully and there is never a need to adjust the volume. Dialog is crisp and clear and never an issue. All of the elements including sound effects, dialog, and the strong and robust score from Marco Beltrami and Buck Sanders have plenty of space and room to breathe. This is a fantastic track, I just wish the actual movie had served this mix a bit better.
Audio Commentary: John Erick Dowdle and Drew Dowdle do a solid job of talking about the movie and explaining some of their choices. It's a solid track overall and keeps things fun and light as the brothers talk about all of the story and shoot.
Deleted Scenes: (HD 5:08) Two scenes from the film Hotel Morning and Hammond's Breakdown offer up some decent character moments for Hammond and help flesh him out and his eventual role in the film a lot better. If the main film had kept these scenes and actually had more of them, things might have run a bit more smoothly.
Behind The Scenes: (HD 13:58) This is a collection of four brief, EPK style moments that focuses on the Dowdle Brothers, Owen Wilson, Lake Bell, and Pierce Brosnan discussing their characters and shooting the film. Sadly this is very brief and somewhat repetitive material.
'No Escape' was one of those movies that I really wanted to enjoy, but the final film just didn't grab me the way that I had hoped. It's a shame too, because the cast is fantastic, and they're really doing their best to make it work, but their performances alone aren't enough to hold this flimsy story together. Anchor Bay brings 'No Escape' to Blu-ray with a serviceable image transfer, a rock solid audio track, and some halfway decent extras. I wasn't wowed by this movie, but fans should appreciate this Blu-ray release and the curious should consider it worthwhile rental.