“No Escape” follows Jack Dwyer, played by Owen Wilson, and his wife Annie (Lake Bell). Jack is moving Annie and their two small daughters to an unnamed Asian nation (though geography dictates that it has to be either Cambodia or Laos) after taking a job with a multinational corporation that is doing something with Malaysia’s water system. “No Escape” is not a film that worries too much about explanations.
Right from the outset, the film drops you into the middle of some sort of political intrigue. We see a man — we assume it’s the nation’s president — killed, for reasons that are kept from us. Before we can get our heads around that, we’re pulled back 17 hours in time and introduced to Dwyer and his family on an airplane, unwittingly heading into trouble.
They are a tired, surly bunch. Annoyed by the length of their flight, condescending toward an unfamiliar culture and generally unlikable right out of the package. We are literally given no reason to care about these people, other than that they are American. Is that enough for you? It better be, because we’re off and running. There is barely time for the Dwyer clan to get into their hotel room and decry the nation as a “fourth-world country” because of its lack of TV channels before there is an armed uprising in the streets, presumably related to the assassination we saw in scene one. From there, as hell progressively breaks loose, more and more of the angry mob (are they rebels? Is this a coup?) turns their attention specifically to finding Dwyer. Why? Because his face was on a banner in his hotel, and that’s reason enough to make these armed malcontents steal a tank at one point.
Let me save you two hours and 10 bucks. After spending the entire film trying to avoid the murderous mob and seek asylum in Vietnam, the Dwyer family steals a boat, makes its way slowly down a river pursued by bad guys from the shore. After repeatedly giving them warnings not enter Vietnam or they’ll shoot, the Vietnamese army then lets the Dwyer’s boat sail into Vietnam anyway and turns their guns on the bad guys.
This movie sucks. Owen Wilson can’t act. Lake Bell can’t act. Pierce Brosnan — whose total screen time is about eight minutes — over acts. Director John Erick Dowdle seemingly has no idea what he’s doing behind the camera. Stylistically, he makes such gratuitous use of the shaky cam effect that at a couple points I had to close my eyes and listen for audio cues to figure out what was happening in a given scene. But when he is not shaking the camera like it owes him lunch money, he is giving us scene after scene in slow motion that is supposed to lend drama but at times is so ridiculous it is genuinely laughable.
You are given no reason to empathize with the Dwyer family, and a whole two lines of dialogue 90 minutes into the film tries to actually explain the plot. Counting me, there were four people in my screening of the film. Two of them left 45 minutes in, and the third was asleep by the time the lights came up.
“No Escape” is an aggressively stupid film. It gets up on the table and flaunts its stupidity in your face, like some overweight Chippendale dancer. It’s easily the worst film I have seen all year and makes me actively wish for some sort of calamity to befall John Erick Dowdle’s career and leave him a person intact but prevent him from ever giving another film crew commands again. CV