2015, R, 103 min. Directed by John Erick Dowdle. Starring Owen Wilson, Lake Bell, Pierce Brosnan, Sahajak Boonthanakit, Tanapol Chuksrida.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Wed., Aug. 26, 2015
You’ve gotta feel for poor Thailand’s endlessly battered tourism industry. First and worst was the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and the resulting killer tsunami (recounted with a minimum of exploitation in the excellent 2012 film The Impossible). Then riots in 2010 ended up reducing parts of the central Bangkok shopping district into smoldering ash. May 22, 2014, saw the overnight (and mostly bloodless) military coup d’état – which was preceded by a series of very public although low-casualty pipe bombings and demonstrations. Two weeks ago – and 15 months into retired Royal Thai Army General (now-Prime Minister) Prayut Chan-o-cha’s self-styled “democratic” governance – the Erawan Shrine in downtown Bangkok was bombed by as-yet-unknown persons in what appears to be an act of terrorism. And now, in perhaps the cruelest twist of all, the Kingdom is about to suffer at least a small amount of tourism drop-off thanks to the xenophobic, fear-fueled, and borderline racist No Escape, which opens wide in the U.S. today and is slated for a Thai release in September. Oy vey! Or as the Thai would say, “Ah-raa-wai” (“What the hell?!”).
Set in an emphatically nonspecific Southeast Asian nation but shot in the northern Thai city of Chiang Mai (sometimes known as “the Austin of Thailand”), No Escape riffs, effectively and with plenty of nail-biting suspense, on every ex-pat’s nightmare: What if a bloody, anti-American revolution occurred while you were in-country? In this case, nothing good happens to American Jack Dwyer (Wilson) and his wife Annie (Bell) who, along with their two preteen daughters, have the misfortune to check into their hotel just as a militantly anti-Western coup is going down at the Prime Minister’s palace. Jack’s some kind of engineer, in town to assist in the construction of a clean-water project, but the film remains steadfastly vague about exactly what’s going on and Jack’s role in it.
On the plane, the family meets a grizzled, mysterious character named Hammond (a great Pierce Brosnan); at their hotel, Jack runs into him at the bar and takes him for one of the region’s notorious “sexpats,” i.e., someone who’s there for the booze and the ladies. Later on, this turns out to be not the case (Hammond may look like an unshorn, drunken wreck, but he’s awfully good at disarming the bad guys). From there on in, the film takes on a nightmarish vibe, with some particularly fine work from director of photography Léo Hinstin, who lights cramped alleyway escapes with plenty of the trippy neon greens and purples that are an actual Thai hallmark.
For all its genuine thrill-ride gestalt, No Escape completely short-shrifts its Southeast Asian players. There’s exactly one Asian character of note, a Kenny Rogers-loving tuk-tuk driver (Boonthanakit). Everyone else is a nameless victim of the equally nameless mob. In a sop to Western guilt, presumably over shady industrialists and rampant capitalists such as the Monsanto Corporation (which in reality is all over Northern Thailand), Hammond delivers a world-weary, third-act speech on how people like him pave the way for people like Jack to screw over people like the unsuspecting locals. It’s cynical enough to be factual, but it’s undercut by the entire casting of the film. No escape indeed.