Owen Wilson Once Again Finds Himself “Behind Enemy Lines”

Director: JOHN ERICK DOWDLE/2015

At the tail end of summer comes a suspenseful film from John Erick Dowdle, who is better known for directing such horror films as As Above/So Below, Quarantine, and Devil.  Here, Dowdle switches gears to direct No Escape, about a family moving from Austin, TX to somewhere in Southeast Asia that the movie never makes clear.  (Whichever country this is, it borders Vietnam.)  On their first day in country, nothing seems to go right at their hotel, and eventually they find themselves in the midst of a coup.

There is no doubt, from the beginning of the story, just what type of film this is.  In many ways it is a formulaic thriller with lots of intense moments, near misses, and mayhem all-around.  What makes it a little bit refreshing is that the cast is truly giving it all they have and for the most part are able to sell it pretty well, even in the midst of a vague plot and head-scratching appearances by a British spy, who keeps showing up randomly to save this family’s skin.  While it is not James Bond, 007, it is Pierce Brosnan!

The family is headed by Jack (Owen Wilson-Wedding Crashers, The Internship) and Annie (Lake Bell-In a WorldMillion Dollar Arm) Dwyer.  We learn, through rather vague dialogue, that Jack, an engineer, has recently had his company go belly-up following an almost success with a valve design.  To recover from the economic impact, he has taken a job with a water company tasked with cleaning the water supply of this less developed country with no name.  His wife and two daughters are less than thrilled to be moving, but are supportive of Jack.

They of course meet Pierce Brosnan’s character Hammond on the plane and even share a ride to the hotel.  This chance meeting will of course pay huge dividends once the chaos begins, but Brosnan is having fun in the role, so it’s all good.

I have to say that the film is able to create a rather tense situation and for the better part of 100 minutes, keep it moving full steam ahead.  Owen Wilson plays against type shedding his comedy schtick, for a more serious role reminiscent of Behind Enemy Lines.  And for the better part of this film, they are behind enemy lines.  Lake Bell, who is really wonderful in almost anything, plays a much more dramatic turn and is able to ground the unlikely premise with a real-world portrayal of one who is thrust into such a situation with two children to care for.

The cast and the level of intensity, along with well shot action, is able to keep the pace tight and brisk, and almost mask any flaws.  The weakness, and rather vague nature, of the dialogue is what derails this story a bit.  The opening scene gives us a great sense of violence, but there is little to connect it to the bigger question of “why” this is all happening.  Sure we are able to cobble together enough information to buy into the intensity of their situation, but we frankly need more than that to make it work.  Also, we get very little information as to why Hammond (Brosnan) keeps popping up at different points in the film.

The film is rated-R for scores of mob violence and brutality, so be prepared, though thankfully there are many cut-aways from what really takes place. Having children witnessing this brutality throughout the film adds another layer of concern about how they’d even be able to emotionally recover if they make it out alive.

Finally, I will say, that in a movie that takes a basic formulaic approach to a giant chase scene such as this, it is nice that the film is able to keep you thinking that at any time, they could all die.  Because of this, the audience is more emotionally invested in seeing this family through to the end, even if it isn’t meant to be. We won’t say as you’ll have to see for yourself as to whether or not there is No Escape for the Dwyer family.