Imagine being a dad with a wife, two young daughters, and a well-paying engineering career, and then losing your job abruptly. The best new job that comes up is overseas, in Southeast Asia, which seems like a culture shock, but you hope for the best and sign on. The company wants you so badly, they’ve even put your image on a giant welcoming banner and hung it outside the finest hotel in the city.
Everything should be great – but you don’t speak the language and haven’t seen a newspaper in three days, so you have no idea that your new country’s leader was just executed in a bloody coup. Only when you leave the hotel to find a copy of USA Today do you realize that the unruly mob that has taken over the city hates Americans and wants every one of them to die – especially you, the face on the banner representing American imperialism to them.
What do you do? Where do you run? How do you get your family out safely?
Those are the bone-chilling questions at the heart of the new movie “No Escape,” a white-knuckle thriller that expertly uses its star, Owen Wilson, as an American everyman in a horrific situation that will have viewers on the edge of their seats and fully engaged throughout most of its running time. Packed with one harrowing twist after another, the movie also manages to make Wilson’s character, Jack Dwyer, and his family people worth rooting for.
The movie, written by the brother filmmaking team of John Erick and Drew Dowdle, with John Erick directing, sets events up calmly and efficiently in the opening moments by showing the Dwyer family on the plane over to Asia. They make acquaintances with a mysterious British man named Hammond (Pierce Brosnan), who says some cryptically strange things about the unnamed country they’re headed towards and then, upon landing, introduces them to a friendly local driver who nicknamed himself after country singer Kenny Rogers.
It seems like the family is one that is happy yet in a stressful transition, and when anti-American rioting breaks out while Jack is buying that newspaper, his wife Annie (Lake Bell, in a terrific performance) breaks down crying and admits that she doesn’t know if she can trust his judgment anymore. But to stay alive, she’ll have to put on a brave face and keep her kids calm and very very quiet if they are to survive amid all the running, jumping, Moped-racing and gunfights that ensue.
While most of the movie is a pulse-pounding thriller as well as a positive portrait of utmost devotion to family, “No Escape” has one particularly astonishing sequence that set the entire audience into audible gasps. Jack and his family are trapped on a rooftop where they were waiting with other Americans for rescue helicopters, only to find that the copter has been hijacked by coup member determined to shoot everyone on sight.
There’s only one way out: jump to the rooftop of another building. But this is nowhere near being easy, and sets off an utterly ingenious action setpiece that should leave no viewer able to watch without rooting and gasping loudly.
Too bad that sequence comes a half hour into the film, rather than at its climax. But other than a too-perfect appearance from a person who can save the family at the very moment that all seems hopeless, “No Escape” is solid entertainment for adults.
But is it dateworthy? For the most part, yes, though viewers should be aware that the movie can be extremely tense at many points in the film, with the kids endangered as much as the parents are throughout.
The movie features brief bursts of F words scattered far apart, along with a few lesser swear word. Most of the film’s R rating comes from its violence, which can seem harsh at a few moments but is largely left to the imagination or shot from afar. In particular, Annie is grabbed by a group of native bad guys who are attempting to sexually assault her, but the scene is shot with discretion and she is saved from that situation before anything can happen to her.
All in all, “No Escape” is surprisingly effective escapism amid the late-summer drought of good films at the box office and is solid entertainment for thriller fans 17 and over.