Friday, 8 December 2017

No Escape (2015)

"What are you? British CIA?" Owen Wilson asks Pierce Brosnan at one point in this rather '70s throwback 'political' actioner. Are you fucking kidding me, Owen Wilson? Surely even a dumb Texan knows what MI6 is and surely you can see that that's James Bond you're talking to?! 

No Escape (what a rotten generic title), the story of an American family caught up in a coup in an unnamed country in South-East Asia, may have picked up the baton in action stakes from Taken and the like but it is, as I say, quite '70s in its psyche and, as such it's been labelled xenophobic. That's OK, the '70s were quite xenophobic: if you couldn't get there via a package holiday then it was a dangerous backwater full of inhuman, cannibalistic murderers who hated 'the white man', right? Of course, it's funny to see a country full of these cliched ruthlessly inscrutable, 'fiendish orientals' attack white western visitors at a time when hate crimes against foreigners and those seeking asylum are repeatedly on the rise in western countries. But hey, the film does at least attempt to criticise the West's involvement in the development of Third World countries via a confessional from Brosnan's intelligence operative.

Still, the blatant xenophobia isn't as funny as seeing Owen Wilson lob his infant daughters off a roof in slo-mo. There really was something unintentionally hilarious and yet at the same time effective in a heart-in-mouth tense way about those sequences. But the unwanted humour of it all just about edged it, unfortunately...right down to the ultra-polite guy just standing by waiting for Wilson's family to escape ahead of him.  Of course, maybe it doesn't help that it is old wonky nosed Wilson in this role of the average joe who has to draw on inner reserves of strength to secure his family's safety. I'm not sure I've really seen Owen Wilson play it straight before, certainly not in an action role (I know he did that one with Gene Hackman years ago, but I never watched it), but he's  nonetheless surprisingly effective in it. Normally such a role might have gone to Brad Pitt or various other Pitt-alikes, but its fitting that it is actually Wilson because, when his character says "I invented a valve", you actually believe that Owen Wilson may be capable of doing such a mundane yet effective thing, unlike Pitt or that guy off The Mentalist, the kind of handsome buff actor you would imagine was on the wish list ahead of Wilson. 

Equally surprising is the inclusion of Lake Bell as Wilson's wife although I have seen her in one dramatic action role prior to this - Black Rock. Unfortunately, No Escape doesn't give Bell much opportunity for kicking ass (certainly not as much as Black Rock did) which is a shame as the notion of her as a lioness protecting her cubs is a promising one. 

Character-wise this is pretty pants really. The family are really sketchily drawn and both Wilson and Bell have little to make their mark upon beyond moving the plot along from one tense moment to the next. There's the suggestion of a backstory and some fault line in their marriage; Wilson seems a little bit of a prat, being both needy enough to seek approval yet at the same time single-handedly feeling he knows that what's best for his family is to uproot them from the US to far flung Asia. There's a moment when Lake Bell has a little cry by herself on their first night in the hotel room and Wilson, rather selfishly, expects her to massage his ego even though she's clearly struggling with her own thing, but none of this is followed through - the characters simply don't develop, they're just there as audience ciphers as we vicariously witness the fraught action through them.

And lastly, there's Brosnan. Now, my hatred of Brosnan as Bond is well known but I actually don't mind him that much in his other roles, even those that clearly give a nod to his most famous performance. I think it's because he's far more acceptable as a faux Bond than he ever was as the real deal. Here, he returns to the cockney intonations of his duplicitous MI6 agent from The Tailor of Panama, but this time he sports a beard. It's not a subtle performance (but hey, it's not a subtle film) and he actually put me rather unfortunately in mind of the time when Michael Crawford donned a beard and a cockney accent to star in Chalk and Cheese, his ill advised, unsuccessful and now rightly forgotten follow up to Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em, but it is nonetheless a spirited and effective, slightly extended, cameo - and a cameo really is all it is, despite him featuring prominently in the credits and poster etc.  But I can't help feeling the film would have benefitted from an authentic Londoner in the role - just imagine what Tim Roth could have done with it, for example.

No Escape isn't bin juice as such, it's perfectly entertaining enough, it's just deeply disposable, silly and pretty forgettable. If it turns up on Channel 5 (as I'm sure it will) it's worth a watch, but nothing more.

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