Review: No Escape Is Incredibly Tone Deaf
Title: No Escape
Director: John Erick Dowdle
Screenwriter: John Erick Dowdle and Drew Dowdle
Principal Cast: Owen Wilson, Lake Bell, Pierce Brosnan, Sahajak Boonthanakit, Sterling Jerins, and Claire Geare
Summary: In their new overseas home, an American family soon finds themselves caught in the middle of a coup, and they frantically look for a safe escape in an environment where foreigners are being immediately executed.
I did not have very high hopes for No Escape the moment that I saw the trailer. Hollywood has a long history of making foreigners look like animals out to kill the white protagonists, but I thought we were in the process of moving beyond that now that the global marketplace is becoming increasingly more important. There was also the casting of Owen Wilson in what looked like a near action hero role that didn’t feel like it fit. I wasn’t expecting much from a trailer that featured someone throwing a child from one building to another because we’ve all seen these movies and they rarely deviate from the formula.
No Escape doesn’t claim the dubious honor of being the most racist film of the year, but it does feel like the plight of the locals are being ignored to focus on one white family.
There are going to be a lot of “think” pieces about No Escape and it’s not because the movie is good. The movie isn’t even particularly bad either, it’s really just kind of boring and ludacris, but it is indicative of a larger problem that Hollywood needs to work through. Our main cast features Jack (Owen Wilson) and Annie (Lake Bell) as a father and mother that relocate their family to east Asia for work along with their two daughters (Sterling Jerins and Claire Geare). They get caught up in a revolution and have to try to and get out of the country with their lives. The entire movie focuses on either this one family or Pierce Brosnan’s character name Hammond. There is hardly a passing thought spared to the locals who are being slaughtered just as much as the foreigners. There is a moment where a white tourist is shot by a mob and it’s supposed to be a shocking moment. The film portrays it as such, but when what looks like an office of locals is nearly blown apart by a tank all the locals are good for is looting the clothing off of their backs. No Escape only cares about this one family and everyone else is just canon fodder.
That isn’t excusable but it might be easier to overlook if the family was anything close to likable. I’ve often mentioned in my reviews of kids movies in that I don’t think kids are smaller, dumber versions of adults, but more that they have a different way of reacting and looking at the world. The two daughters in No Escape feel like an insult to children everywhere. Every single time they did something completely stupid I found myself wondering if I was that stupid as a kid. I like to think that no child is dumb enough to pitch a fit that they lost their stuffed toy while being chased by gunman. This kid isn’t little, either; I’d guess she is supposed to be at least five years old if not older. Wilson and Bell don’t end up much better with Wilson being the stand out for poor casting. There are some people that might have been able to make this role work but WIlson is not one of them. Bell is working her butt off to be likable, but this is an entire family that continues to do one bafflingly dumb thing after another.
This is going to be a minor spoiler, but more than halfway through the movie it grinds to a halt to have Brosnan basically explain the entire uprising. The movie has made the people of the uprising look like the Asian cousins to Hans Gruber from Die Hard as they are threatening to kill and rape our white family, but then he tries to make it seem like they have a point. The tonal whiplash makes no sense because less than five minutes later the movie goes right back to portraying the rioters as evil as possible. Brosnan might be the best part of the entire movie, but only that I kept imagining him as a James Bond who got fired from MI6 and decided to take up the even dirtier side of government work.
No Escape is another movie that tries to cover how tone deaf it is by trying to be a B movie, but the uncomfortable setting and how it chooses to focus on this one family is impossible to ignore.