‘No Escape’ review: Escape from the theater

“No Escape”
Directed by
John Erick Dowdle
Written by Drew & John Erick Dowdle
Starring Owen Wilson, Lake Bell, Pierce Brosnan, Sterling Jerins, Claire Geare, Spencer Garrett, Sahajak Boonthanakit
Rated: R
Grade: no stars out of ****

“No Escape” features a family attempting to get out of an unnamed “Southeast Asian” country after bloodthirsty dissidents take over the entire region in the time it takes to get a haircut. It’s also the type of movie where the safe haven of “Vietnam” is just beyond an old bridge marked with a giant, bright-orange banner that actually reads “VIETNAM” in big letters because, holy shit, that’s how much respect the filmmakers have for their audience.

Owen Wilson stars as “Jack Dwyer”, a businessman with affiliation to a company that has apparently discovered some of the area’s resources and plopped a big ol’ factory down like Sim City in order to mine it. ‘Murica’s meddlin’ pisses off the good citizens of Where Ever The Hell This Is, so they all don red scarves, brandish guns, swords and other assorted weapons and go on a bloodthirsty rampage, murdering anything that gets in their way.

After witnessing other white people getting a bullet to the head, Dwyer scoops up his wife Annie (Lake Bell) and his two kids, Lucy (Sterling Jerins) and “The Beez” (Claire Geare), and, together, they escape to the roof of their hotel. After nearly dying several times over at the hands of a rebel-hijacked gunship, the family ends up uniting with a mysterious man named “Hammond” (Pierce Brosnan) and his partner, “Kenny Rogers” (Sahajak Boonthanakit), the Dwyers are told to escape to “Vietnam” where (in a twist the filmmakers seem to think is deeply ironic) they can find asylum.

no escape

The film is wildly uneven.

First, It’s honest-to-Flying-Spaghetti-Monster weird that this is a movie set in a part of the world with so much culture and so many good people, yet the only people we’re programmed to care about is a bunch of white people. Seriously. Everyone “civilized” is a bunch of white people who just cannot believe what’s happening. On top of that, the Dwyers and the situation that causes the country’s “uprising” are completely underdeveloped. Why are the Dwyers there? For Dad’s company thing. What’s the company thing? Something about water and putting in a factory that takes water. On top of that, every single Asian person who isn’t one of the rebels in this film is simply window dressing — and insultingly so. They’re clueless, nameless, and helpless or they’re represented as drug addicts, hookers or living in complete poverty.

Second, while the movie can be very intense and delivers some suspenseful set pieces (that is, if you’re into the kind of “intense suspense” the Brothers Dowdle are selling you), it starts at dumb, then moves on to insulting to offensive to dirty to downright ugly.and there were moments I was tempted to walk out of the theater and not watch another minute. One moment that encompasses all five of those adjectives is a scene where Annie is temporarily captured by a group of rebels. Before I go on, I probably should say that you’ve probably guessed that the movie is basically an ongoing game of cat-and-mouse. Each suspense sequence is predicated on whether or not the rebels will look behind some rubble or underneath some sort of canvassing to find the Dwyers trembling underneath.

When Annie is nabbed, she’s beaten mercilessly — and I mean mercilessly. The leader of the group outright pins her to the ground and punches her in the face until blood is pouring from her mouth. It’s a terrible scene — but the filmmakers aren’t through. Annie is thrown on top of a stone column, a couple rebels holding her there. The leader spreads her legs and begins to unbuckle his pants, intent on raping her in front of her husband. All Jack can do is scream as the rebel leader just smirks at Jack. A belt is unbuckled. We hear a zipper. Moments later, they tear her dress off. The music grows more and more shrill, leading to some sort of crescendo. It’s not suspenseful. It’s sick. The rape scene in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo works because it ends up advancing the plot. It also sympathizes with the character by showcasing the emotional and physical toll it takes on Lisbeth. Lisbeth is also a very strong female character. In this movie, the near-rape is used as a set-piece. It’s exploitation and cinematic misogyny at its worst, as if the filmmakers are smugly winking at the audience while asking, “Will he REALLY rape Annie? WILL HE???”

I won’t even touch the part where the rebel’s leader gives Beez a gun so that she can shoot her own father. Oh wait, I went there. He also puts a gun to her head and threatens to end her life if she doesn’t follow through on that order. What a movie.


The big draw behind this film is Owen Wilson’s “dramatic turn”, which is to say that he’s doing something other than being a comedy character with an easygoing “gee whiz” swagger. Unfortunately, he brings that same swagger into this movie. Nothing changes here other than the fact that he bleeds, occasionally punches a guy and holds a gun. It’s even hard to believe that this is his family. He just seems like he was plucked out of “A Night at the Museum” in order to fill in for Kiefer Sutherland who couldn’t make it because he was busy filming Tequila ads. Brosnan doesn’t belong here, either. His character is more or less a reprisal of the Julian Noble character from 2005’s “The Matador”. He’s a heavy-drinking, chain-smoking, womanizing former government spook working for the UK or Australia. Like every other character or sub-plot in this film, we’re not sure because it isn’t clear and it never becomes clear. He’s presented as the film’s comic relief which is a baffling decision considering what the filmmakers are trying to go for. Plus, it’s obvious the Dwyers need a little help and who better to help them than Dirty Old James Bond? Right?

Other than that, there isn’t much to this movie. Every single sequence is the Dwyers running from the same angry people over and over and hiding behind fences, rocks and bushes. Sometimes, they disguise in plain sight and walk right through a mob of angry rebels who don’t have seem to have the smarts to stop and say, “Hey, you’ve got blonde hair, blue eyes and a couple kids!” Even the cinematography and locales are irritating and disgustingly grimy. Everything is bloody or covered in mud. It’s interspersed with night photography a’la Michael Mann, but completely lacks the style that made Mann’s films unique. It’s obvious that director John Erick Dowdle has some talent, having given us some decent psychological horror in “The Poughkeepsie Tapes” and “As Above, So Below”, and one can see that he’s brought that mindset to this film. The film is almost like a zombie apocalypse film with real people standing in for the zombies. With a better script and fleshed-out characters, that premise might have worked. It wouldn’t have been wholly original (“28 Days Later” kinda tackled that), but it might have worked.

It doesn’t work when you have Annie pointing at Vietnam’s “bridge border” and yelling, “LOOK! THERE’S VIETNAM!”

One of the movie’s taglines is “How far would you go to survive?”

That question should be directed at the audience subjected to this disaster.

(“No Escape” premieres in theaters nationwide, August 26th, 2015.)

Matt Perri
Matt Perrihttp://mattperri.wordpress.com
Matt Perri is one of those literary Ronin you’ve never heard of until he shows up and tells you he’s a literary Ronin. He’s a native Californian, a film buff, old school gamer geek, and a sports/entertainment fan. A lifelong Giants, 49ers and Sharks fan, he also covers the world of pro-wrestling, writing recaps for WWE Monday Night RAW and Total Divas at Scott’s Blog of Doom. You can follow the guy on Twitter via @PerriTheSmark as well as here at The Workprint and his own blog, Matt's Entertainment.

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      • First, there were Asian people in the movie that represented a demographic in which you didn’t describe: like those who worked at the hotel who attempted to blockade the militants from entering. Clearly not everyone was represented as clueless, a drug addict, or living in abject poverty. The wife is beaten and almost raped. It’s an action movie. Framing this scene as ‘exploitation and cinematic misogyny’ really highlights the extent to which you’d go to in order to perpetuate your quacky left wing narrative (as if that wasn’t evident enough from your (inaccurate) comparison of how whites & non whites are portrayed). If you’re to characterize that as misogyny, perhaps you should recognize the countless men (much more than women should I add) that were murdered in the film as well — is this misandry? Or the fact that the children were terrorized throughout the entire film. But of course only the violence committed against women should be objected to. Not like it’s an action movie or anything.

  1. Your review is so full of hate it is hilarious. The movie is great and the actors were excellent. You have to give Wilson credit; the man’s allowed to do more than brainless comedies. Given the tone of this critique, you remind me of the people I know who failed as actors and became hating-ass critics. Those who can’t do critique, I guess. Anyway, this movie isn’t fine art film but everybody in the packed movie theater seemed to loved it as much as I did. So readers, from a happy, passionate movie lover – the movie is truly worth it.

    • Thanks for your feedback. I was never an actor, so I couldn’t have “failed at being an actor”. I write. Some things I like, some things I don’t. You happen to disagree with me. It happens. The movie isn’t “high art” as you astutely pointed out — but it’s also less than entertaining. Wilson and and Brosnan turn in lazy performances and the theater we were in was groaning through most of the bad dialogue. A few booed after it was over and about 6 or 7 people clapped.

      • You want to act like a professional film critic, don’t “boo” movies. You also shouldn’t talk about specific scenes that happen very late in the film in heavy detail the way you do here, as that’s spoiling the film for others. This review is overly harsh, like you have something personal against the production. It’s a story about an American family who is trying to survive a violent uprising, and you’re complaining about scenes being disturbing or too violent? What did you expect? Are the rebels supposed to use tasers and carry them gently to safety?? I too reviewed the movie, and while I wouldn’t say it was terrific, I did find it very intense and engaging, as did many others at our screening. Not sure what kind of film you expected it to be, but it’s almost exactly what I thought it would be going in, so I wasn’t terribly disappointed.

        • Mark…I have no idea what you’re reading but I never said “I booed the film”. I said some of the audience members did. Also, I made reference to a line about Vietnam and what the border looked like. That hardly “spoils the film”.

          You may think the review is “overly harsh”. That’s your opinion. A few of my colleagues share my opinion as do some of the more “professional” critics online. It’s everything you’re describing: and it’s executed poorly. Everything, from the “Prime Minister” to the “rebels” to the country they’re in is vague.

          I don’t expect films to be one way or the other. You liked it and I didn’t. Congrats.

    • Erick Dwodle, is that you? Seriously Julie, I can’t fathom anyone liking this steaming pile. Yes it’s incredibly insulting stuff and I’m a very un-PC person. It’s borderline 1930s Hollywood level racism and the rape exploitation/mysoginy is over the top (and I’m a dude who’s usually oblivious to these things in films according to my wife). But set all that aside. It isn’t remotely entertaining. It’s painfully poor writing delivered with no effort whatsoever by the entire cast. I often like Owen Wilson, Brosnon is usually solid and I have always liked Lake Bell. All of them are pure rubbish in this, terrible acting, nothing close to believable or illiciting the slightest amount of give a damn. Just a complete waste of film. It sucked and I’m glad this review exists to deter others from witnessing this mistake.

  2. I could have written this review. I hated the script, well I would call it the lack of script. I think an episode of Tom and Jerry was more creative than this movie. I also thought many characters lacked depth and the movie was highly predictable.

  3. Wholeheartedly and completely disagree with everything in this review. Saw the AMC Stubbs preview on Wednesday and absolutely loved this film—so intense and exciting, along with some fun moments! It was one of the best films I’ve seen this summer!

  4. What was also very confusing in this movie was how Pierce Brosnan (and, later, Lake Bell) seems to pop up, deus ex machina, at just the right time to save Owen Wilson and his family. It’s as if the writers, realizing that they had written themselves into a corner at certain points, decided to just have a character do something that would advance the plot (give the family a cab ride, beat the bad guy to death, bleed out amazingly quickly only to rally and narrate his final death). It might have been more effective if, at those same points, the filmmakers had just stopped the action, shown a card that read “Suddenly, a miracle occurs” and then shown the result.

    • Absolutely. That was one of the things that bugged me. Brosnan happened to just wander into somebody’s random yard and saved the day. That, and the fact that these guys have no conscience and kill anything that moves — but they’ll take their time with a guy who instills more hate in them than the average guy on the street. In fact, they don’t do anything to the kid save for giving her a gun to shoot her own Dad…you’d think these guys would just kill the two of them. And that climax on the river…ugh. “DON’T CROSS INTO OUR WATERS! DON’T DO IT! DON’T CROSS OVER! DON’T–ok, you’re here. Nevermind.” *SIGH*

    • Quite relevant. We’re the only entertainment site carrying a review for the movie since the studio is embargoing all other reviews of the film — a sign that, 99 percent of the time, means a movie is going to be a flop. Last movie to have a review embargo?

      Fantastic Four. Just sayin’.

      • Again, if you want to be a professional film critic and get any kind of respect, you don’t do things like brag about how you broke embargo. Think studios will respect you for that? Quite the opposite. And as someone who has been a film critic for over 20 years, I can tell you that an embargo doesn’t always mean a film is bad, but you should honor it if the studio allowed you into a screening. That’s part of the deal.

        • No embargo was broken on the part of any Workprint writer. It was a public screening with no restrictions tied to it.

          While I agree that review embargos don’t always mean a bad thing, they’ve been used abused quite a bit in recent years across mediums.

        • There ARE films that have had embargoes that weren’t bad (Girl With the Dragon Tattoo comes to mind) but most films that have an embargo almost 24 hours until their release almost always turn out to be flops. Since this was a film that has 41% on Rotten Tomatoes and even lower on Metacritic, I’d say our logic on the matter is a touch more sound. Added to that, the critical consensus on this film fits what I wrote about it.

        • We’re not beholden to the embargo as we’ve been in the past. When we saw the film, we were not asked to sign the usual non-disclosure form we’ve been asked to sign. If the studio contacted us to remove the review until Monday when the embargo lifts, we would. They have not done so, so our review goes up.

          P.S.: If you can’t see that the “99 percent of the time, x” quote is hyperbole, then I can’t help you. I can, however, point you to a critic who has done the research. http://hollywoodandfine.com/why-so-serious-about-review-embargoes/

          Embargoes were also held on Fifty Shades of Grey, G.I. Joe, and The Great and Powerful Oz — and all those were panned as well.

          If it makes you feel any better, I think the film might get decent reviews. It just wasn’t a movie I liked. You disagree. Fine. You’re not alone in your opinion and I’m not alone in mine.

  5. I hadn’t even heard of this film until I just now saw a commercial for it while randomly watching my Philadelphia Eagles in a preseason game this evening.

    And while I normally can turn off my brain during the rare times I’m forced to watch LIVE, NON-DVR’ED TV and the commercial breaks eventually happen, when the advert for NO ESCAPE showed up on my screen, I could not turn my eyes away. Mainly because I was like: “Well this looks like completely exploitative, casually-racist Fear-Mongering dross” and then I also simultaneously thought: “WHY ARE CLEARLY HIGHLIGHTING EXPLOITATIVE, CASUALLY-RACIST, FEAR-MONGERING DROSS IN A 30-SECOND ADVERTISEMENT?!”

    So I went online and looked for a review. I saw yours first. And you pretty much wrote (very sensibly, I’ll say) exactly what I was thinking inside while watching a commercial advertising Yet Another Tale of Precious Blonde People Being Terrorized By Brown Savages.

    And I know there’s always gonna be an audience for this kind of stuff (I’m thinking that audience largely conflates with Donald Trump Supporters), but I was still surprised at how they didn’t even try to hide it in this commercial.

    Finally, I’m also a little disappointed that Lake Bell is in this because I usually like her work. But a paycheck is a paycheck, I guess.

    Anyway, thanks for the on-point review. It needed to be said and we’ve all gotta call this kind of stuff out when it’s thrust upon us.

    (I also see you do some wrestling blogging. Enjoy SummerSlam tomorrow.)

      • Oh, no, no — I don’t do any wrestling blogging myself. (I phrased that poorly.)

        I’ve just been a pretty ardent wrestling fan since the 80s. (I admittedly fell away from it a bit in my late teens (1995-ish), but I got back into it in my mid-20s and have been pretty steadily following it for about the last 12 years or so. Also had to go back and catch up on all of the stuff I missed.)

        I try to read a good deal of the wrestling stuff Brandon Stroud writes on WITH SPANDEX and also try to catch whatever The Masked Man posts on GRANTLAND — but I’m generally just happy that in this internet day and age, everyday wrestling fans with some decent literary talent have a public platform to write about this stuff (and maybe earn a few dollars for it). And also that we other fans can read along, enjoy and support it.

        Also, just from reading your profile blurb (“film buff”, “gamer”, “pro-wrestling blogger”) I just kind of had to respond. I’m an 80s Kid, so I obviously grew up playing video games; I was a film major in college; but finally to read that you’re into “pro-wrestling” I guess completed the tri-fecta for me, so I had to shoot you a fellow gamer/film buff/wrestling geek a compliment. I gotta support my Internet Stranger-Kindred Souls.

        Plus, watching that commercial trailer for NO ESCAPE fairly disgusted me, and reading your review of the film really helped me feel like I wasn’t having a totally overreaction.

        Anyway, you’re very welcome for the compliment. While this is my first exposure to your writing, I enjoyed it, so now I’m just very happy that I’ve found another good writer on the ‘net who does wrestling blogs that I can check out.

        Keep up the good work, Brother.

  6. This movie was HORRIBLE! My friend & I had free screening passes to it and we kept waiting for it to get better and it never did! This was nothing but a gory violent piece of crap! No Thanks! What a waste of time!!!

  7. wife and I watched it on Netflix…I gave it 2 out of 5 stars…meaning I didn’t like it. Just too unrealistic while trying to be “realistic.” It was vague and well…basically…the movie sucked just like the critic said. Those of you who liked it…good for you, you obviously don’t demand too much.

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