MOVIE GUY: ‘No Escape’ from tense, xenophobic thriller

Published 11:51 pm Thursday, August 27, 2015

No Escape

Weinstein Pictures

Directed by John Erick Dowdle

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Starring Owen Wilson, Lake Bell, Pierce Brosnan, Sterling Jerins, Claire Geare, Sahajak Boonthanakit

Rated R

John Erick Dowdle made his name in Hollywood with a series of mid-budget horror films. You can clearly see that pedigree in his latest film, “No Escape,” a mainstream thriller that is very good at ratcheting up the tension, but blunders when it comes to story and tone.

Owen Wilson stars as Jack Dwyer, and American businessman who is starting a new job halfway across the world — the country isn’t named, but the movie was filmed in Thailand. Lake Bell plays his wife, Annie, who is concerned about moving, as well as the state of her strained marriage.

She has good reasons to be worried. A bloody coup breaks out almost immediately after the Dwyer family arrives. Molotov cocktails fly, police clash violently with machete-wielding rebels and the Dwyers are caught in the crossfire.

To its credit, this all comes across as a series of very tense chase sequences. The filmmakers are very good at keeping the audience on the edge of their seats, wondering if the family will survive the bloodthirsty mob that is always hot on their heels. The fact that the family has two small daughters to protect makes things even more worrisome.

The problem comes in the form of the villains, who are either portrayed as bloodthirsty savages or faceless cannon fodder. This is a rather racist portrayal of an entire population, and pretty hard to stomach whenever the film slows down. The good news is that the action seldom pauses. The bad news is that the end credits eventually roll and you’re left feeling a bit icky.

The other problem comes in the casting. Owen Wilson and Lake Bell are mostly known for their comedic acting abilities. They seem a bit miscast in this action film but do manage to turn in pretty respectable performances given the limitations of the screenplay. That’s more than can be said for Pierce Brosnan, who chews the scenery while delivering some awkward social commentary that probably should have been left on the cutting room floor.

The end result is a movie that, like a good horror film, knows how to ratchet up the tension and keep the blood pumping. Of course, simplistic stories and bad acting are also frequently hallmarks of horror films. The problem is that this is a mainstream thriller with actual movie stars. Mix in a heavy dose of xenophobia and you have a mediocre action thriller that will leave you looking to escape the theater.

Movie reviews by Sean, “The Movie Guy,” are published bi-weekly in “The Port Arthur News” and seen weekly on KFDM-TV. Sean welcomes your comments via email at