I’m always wary of films that star famous people (here Owen Wilson and Lake Bell) but have had absolutely zero hype on the interwebs. Not that every film needs or benefits from hype, just that it’s strange that you spend all this money to get pretty faces in your movies and then you don’t do a thing to broadcast to the world that they, or the movie they’re populating, exist.
I think I’m losing what snobs refer to as “taste.” I can’t figure out if it’s because the summer offerings have been particularly weak this year and the movies I’m enjoying are just a little bit better than the bag-fulls of hobo poo that I usually find myself sleeping through; or, if after a lifetime of watching films, my brain has finally hit a point where all of the important pathways have collapsed under the weight of content digestion, and all I’m left with is a vague, blobbish hole where only the most underformed of content can happily live. So understand, that when I say what I’m about to say, I realize that it may be coming from a context of salvation from absolute mediocrity and/or slight brain damage: I liked No Escape. Yes, I fully understand that a film about four white people in a small Southeast Asian country fleeing from an army of brown-skinned savages hellbent on raping and killing them grapples with a perhaps undiscussed idea of American xenophobia. And yes, I understand that Owen Wilson, crooked nose and rugged blonde good looks on full display, might not be the best casting for a film that sells itself as an action movie. And with all that knowledge bubbling around inside my enormous head, I still liked No Escape. Director John Erick Dowdle (a pillar of the found-footage horror industry up to this point) manages, intentionally or not, to make No Escape feel like some sort of reflection of the simpler days of 80s action films, where there didn’t have to be fussy high concepts, but rather just a protagonist, a threat, and some reason for the protagonist to have to jump into action. In No Escape, our protagonist, bland water engineer Jack Dwyer (Owen Wilson), and his family are moved into a generic Southeastern Asian country to help bring water back to the people. Turns out that on the day after they arrive, a violent coup occurs and the rest of the movie is spent following the Dwyers as they try to avoid being hacked to death by violent locals. Somewhere Pierce Brosnan (playing a sort of Ricky Gervais take on a bad-ass) appears to kick some ass, probably take some names. It’s a simple film. A lot of running, a lot of shooting, and a lot of hiding. But, what I liked was that Dowdle uses the Dwyer Family as a unit. This isn’t Owen Wilson trying to hunt down those who did his family wrong, and using a plethora of karate chops and machine guns to do so, this is Owen Wilson leading his family away from killers who will, if they catch them, kill them all. And Dowdle makes that both an advantage, an inspiration, a burden (at one point one of the kids asks to go to the bathroom in the middle of a firefight, and it’s pretty scary) and a terrifying prospect (Wilson throwing his daughter off a roof made me cover my mouth). It elevates the fear factor of the movie, lets every corner seem terrifying, every person possibly a threat. The film scoots along for the first two-thirds as The Dwyer’s fight there way through a series of coup-forced obstacles and though it slows down to a sodden crawl by the end, it still works. It isn’t really an action film, it’s a family film with a lot of exploding helicopters and decapitations and a mild amount of American xenophobia. Which, you know, aside from the xenophobia, works for me. It’s nothing special, you aren’t going to go home and tell your children that this film changed your life, but it has that warmth, that texture and believability of a good old fashioned 80s movie and in a world of CG, well, everything, it was at least a little refreshing.
I’m an easy lay these days. Give me some decent actors and some explosions and I’m sold.
The Lesson #2:
Lake Bell is the real deal. She hits a whole spectrum of emotional notes here and they’re all entirely believable. Cast her more Hollywood.