[Screen It]


(2015) (Owen Wilson, Lake Bell) (R)

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Suspense/Action: An American family tries to survive a violent coup in the southeast Asian country where they've just moved.
Jack Dwyer (OWEN WILSON) is an engineer for a Western-based corporation who's arrived in a southeast Asian country (unidentified in the film, but bordering Vietnam) with his wife, Annie (LAKE BELL), and their two young daughters, Lucy (STERLING JERINS) and Beeze (CLAIRE GEARE).

He's there to work on the country's water infrastructure, and after meeting seasoned world traveler Hammond (PIERCE BROSNAN) and his trusty local cab driver, Kenny Rogers (SAHAJAK BOONTHANAKIT), Jack and his family check out their new hotel room where not everything works as it should.

While out getting the only western newspaper he can find, Jack finds himself in the middle of a clash between rebels and the local police force, unaware that the former group has already murdered the country's prime minister and set a coup into motion. Racing back to the hotel to get his family, Jack learns that the rebels are already there, extracting and executing foreigners.

With no time to spare, Jack gathers up his family and tries to figure out how to get them out of the increasingly dangerous situation, all while receiving some unexpected help from Hammond who turns out to be more than what he initially appeared to be.

OUR TAKE: 6 out of 10
A number of years ago, I was all set to attend a business conference in Fiji and it sounded wonderful. After all, who wouldn't want to unwind after sessions by hitting the beautiful beaches, sampling the local culinary delights, and generally experiencing bliss in an idyllic setting?

Then reality kicked in. Beyond the conference lodging costing more than $1,000 per night (to get mosquito free trappings, no less), the plane ticket was equally outrageous and the total flight time (including multiple layovers) was measured in days rather than hours.

But the real deal killer was a quick Internet search that revealed the country was still under a military coup. Although it was reportedly of the bloodless variety, Fiji no longer sounded like a place I really wanted to visit, especially at that price tag.

It's unclear if Jack Dwyer had any advance warning the same might occur when he made plans to move his family to a never-identified southeast Asian country for work. But that's what he and they must contend with in "No Escape," a taut little thriller with the initially seemingly miscast Owen Wilson in the lead role.

Don't get me wrong. The man's a decent actor and has been enjoyable to behold in various roles, but he's more often than not associated with quirky comedies than action thrillers. But by toning that back a bit here, Wilson creates a readily approachable and believable character who you really end up rooting for, which also holds true for his wife played by Lake Bell.

Those playing their young kids (Sterling Jerins and Claire Geare) aren't as fortunate, and come off more like pawns in the hands of writer/director John Erick Dowdle and co-writer Drew Dowdle who use the girls at various points to up the ante in terms of "Oh no, the little rug rats are going to give away their location and get their family killed" suspense. Just when things look bad, Pierce Brosnan shows up (always at opportune times, as if playing the family's guardian angel) to give them the necessary direction (or return gunfire) to take them one step closer to defying the film's title.

Aside from a brief scene where he bemoans the fact that he (and the rest of Western imperialism) is to blame for the current uprising, the film doesn't delve much into the politics at play, and none of the local rebels (or victims for that matter) are ever personified beyond the murderous thugs the family needs to avoid.

But I don't think that's what the filmmakers were after, and much like coming off as a cinematic kissing cousin to "The Impossible" (about a Western family dealing with the aftermath of an Asian tsunami), this film is seemingly intended as a white knuckle experience showcasing what a couple must do to survive an unexpected and dangerous situation in a foreign land.

I'll admit that I found myself actually sweating at times from the suspense, something that I don't often experience in theaters (unless the AC is broken or the heat is cranked up) despite the various attempts at movie suspense I've sat through over the decades. So that alone gives you an indication of what's in store for viewers who decide to embark on this trip.

Some critics have expressed concerns (and even outright disdain) toward the film's supposed politics and worldview. I didn't feel or think any of that, and instead felt that the locals' general anonymity and the family's overall lack of understanding of what's fueled the coup works quite well in putting the viewer into the characters' shoes, all of which makes the offering an immediate and visceral experience rather than a sociopolitical one.

While not perfect (the girls as tension bait, Brosnan's opportune arrivals, and the filmmakers' questionable decision of using slow motion footage from time to time all earn some demerits), I found there to be little escape from the tension and suspense in "No Escape." It's a trip you might want to take if you're into such thrillers, and rates as a 6 out of 10.

Reviewed August 20, 2015 / Posted August 26, 2015

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