No Escape (2015)

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“Welcome to the third world.”

No Escape is the funniest movie of the summer of 2015. And it’s not a comedy. How can you not laugh at this blatantly condescending, offensively racist story? Every good review you read on this film will mention its intense and extensively xenophobic attitude. That’s not only because it’s surface level, but because it is the heart of the entire movie. What a cute, proper, angelic family of white Americans. They are so much better than everyone else. The film implies that while on foreign lands, on others’ home soil, the visitors should be the ones afraid. There is nowhere safe, no way out in the crowded sea of the unknown as a fish out of water. But we’re the smarter, more conniving breed. We play these dumber, animalistic people like a game of jingoism themed Jenga. No Escape pulls out each desperate piece one after another, often hysterically contrived and insulting. You could’ve prompted a loud “JINGO” and a slobber-mouthed smile out of some of the audience members at every kill or punch or bullet. Find the EXITS early and run fast. This film deserves all the chiding it gets.

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The Dwyer family has relocated to Southeast Asia for Jack’s (Owen Wilson) work for a water company. The clan’s made up of Annie (Lake Bell) and their daughters Lucy and Beeze. Things aren’t great, life not expected to be as it was anticipated, but they’re together. You can only wring the best out of a situation if you’re willing to squeeze. And that’s why the movie fails so miserably. No Escape has no patience, unlike, say, 2012’s The Impossible, a film which equally and unfairly caters to Caucasians but nevertheless succeeds because of the family connection. Pluck these people out of this world and they wouldn’t be compelling. They’d have no appeal or draw. So when the action abruptly starts, for no reason mind you, it’s hard to care. Parts are intense and thrilling (mostly due to camera placement inducing fear of height or distance), but you never fear for their lives. How can the great whites die in a film that places them atop a pedestal from the start?

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As a film from the Dowdle brothers, who up to this point have specialized in handheld horror features, the visuals literally gave me a headache. Their style doesn’t match this type of story, at least not for a full length film. Most of the shots are at a sharp angle to suggest and imply chaos and/or lack of structural balance; all it does is strain your eyes worse than reading a book in darkness. Mostly though, No Escape is flat-out ridiculous. It’s preposterous, outlandish, beyond comprehension. I cannot fathom how studio heads, or even these talented performers, read the script and thought to themselves, “This is gonna be great!” Audiences are manipulated into empathy through perilous and outrageous acts of courage. Our fair-skinned despots belittle the Asians while freely letting the few good individuals sacrifice their lives to save the main characters. Wave that white flag, let freedom ring for our family of four. Nobody else matters.

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The most pivotal and telling piece of No Escape involves Jack competing in the shot-put your daughter event, throwing them from one slightly elevated rooftop to the one below to find safety. It’s everything you need to know about the movie, really. We get fine performances from Wilson and Bell, two distinguished talents undeserving of such execrable material, in addition to another horrific turn from the free-falling talent of Pierce Brosnan as a no-name savior. No Escape asks us to take the fetal position and let it throw us over the edge. And without permission we’re tossed, flailing wildly through a war-torn coup of a story without agenda or antagonistic detail, frantically grasping onto anything near reach and within reason. But there’s nothing in sight. We don’t make it. We fall down, down, down in a burning ring of casual bigotry and misanthropic inclinations. Sometimes you only feel the landing when you fall from such great heights.

“There’s no good or bad here. There’s just get your family the hell out.”

Rating: 0.5 out of 5

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