Anonymous action

"Do you think anyone will have a hard time taking me seriously as an action star?

Rated 2.0

Owen Wilson and Lake Bell act scared shitless with the best of them in No Escape, an occasionally gripping but mostly silly American tourist nightmare from director John Erick Dowdle.

There are some tense moments and decent sequences in the movie, but it’s an insipid affair in the end, and all of Wilson and Bell’s bug-eyed hyperventilating is for naught.

Wilson plays Jack Dwyer, husband to Annie (Bell) and father of two girls, Lucy (Sterling Jerins) and Beeze (Claire Geare). After his company has failed, he takes a job overseas in an unnamed, truly nefarious Asian country. Not long after arriving at their hotel, Jack goes out for a newspaper, only to witness a rebel uprising and the murder of an American in the street. Jack must get back to the hotel ahead of a bloodthirsty mob, corral the wife and kids, and commence running for their lives.

After suddenly becoming some sort of action star able to outrun mobs and scale buildings, Jack eventually finds the family. They take to the hotel rooftop, where a bunch of tourists and hotel employees are holing up. They can’t keep the wolves at bay, and things get so bad that Jack has to throw his kids from one rooftop to the other while his wife catches them. This sequence, shot in painful slow motion, stands as the best part of the movie. Actually, it’s the only really good part of the movie.

The rest of the film features an unknown enemy that epitomizes every horror film cliché pursuing helpless American victims. The screenplay tries to position the Americans as slightly villainous as well, having conspired to steal the country’s clean drinking water, or something like that.

So, I guess that is the filmmaker’s attempt to make the Asian attackers something less than an entirely racist, stereotypical depiction of people of the East? They have a reason to be nastier than Jason from the Friday the 13th movies, don’t they? Evil America has stolen their water.

Hey, at least movies like Rambo are cocky enough to name their villains and lay it out on the table rather than making the villains anonymous. The enemy territory in this movie is just a short boat ride away from Vietnam, so I guess it’s Thailand (where the film was banned). The script originally stated Cambodia as the locale, but that changed. So now it’s just a mean Asian country that shall remain unnamed. That’s cowardly filmmaking.

Wilson, in a departure from his comedic and dramatic roles, delivers an admirable performance, even if it is a wasted one. He’s done the running-like-hell thing before, most notably in the awful Behind Enemy Lines. It’s a little ridiculous how his engineer character suddenly becomes an awesome ass-kicker in the name of survival.

Bell, a comedic actress who is epic in the new Wet Hot American Summer Netflix series, shows she is far more than a laugh machine. She convincingly portrays somebody unlucky enough to have a stupid husband who takes her to an anonymous Asian country where her children almost plunge to their deaths and she is nearly raped. Again, it’s some good acting work for a film that doesn’t deserve her.

Rounding out the cast is Pierce Brosnan as a friendly tourist who isn’t what he seems. A moment where his character flies into action to save the day is probably the most ridiculous one in the movie. Nevertheless, the movie is always a little better when Brosnan is on screen.

If anything, this movie might give a few folks planning to shift their careers and families oversees second thoughts, especially if those folks traffic in bottled water. No Escape is the sort of film that gets dumped into late summer with hopes that most will just turn their brains off and refrain from scrutinizing the plot points and characterizations.

I guess I’m not in the target audience.