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Movie Review: 'No Escape'

By Bill Wine

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- As if raising and protecting a family isn't difficult and precarious enough, No Escape ups the ante exponentially.

Owen Wilson and Lake Bell star in this action-suspense thriller as spouses Jack and Annie Dwyer, the parents of two young daughters (played by Claire Geare and Sterling Jerins), who relocate from Austin, Texas, to an unnamed nation in Southeast Asia because of Jack's water-purification business.

The family of four sets up housekeeping in the city's luxury hotel, but what they soon discover is that they are now living in a war zone and are in the midst of a violent political uprising in which highly armed militant rebels begin attacking the city in a violent Third World (or even "fourth world" ) coup d'etat and foreigners are being routinely executed.

Panic-stricken, they head for the American Embassy and turn to a British government operative named Hammond, played by Pierce Brosnan, whose full agenda reveals itself gradually.

With or without Hammond's help, the Dwyers are forced to run for their lives with the weapon-wielding guerrillas in homicidal pursuit.

It's interesting seeing Wilson and Bell, two respected performers we do not automatically associate with the thriller genre, in this kind of vehicle. And they're ordinary citizens, not superheroes, which is at least part of the reason we are comforted by the presence of Brosnan and his Bondian background as the shady expatriate.

However, the kids-in-jeopardy thrust is trotted out much too frequently, even though it is germane, and the film's willingness to embrace grave preposterousness doesn't exactly foster believability.

Director John Erick Dowdle, who has heretofore more or less specialized in the horror genre (Quarantine; Devil; As Above, So Below), co-wrote the screenplay, originally titled The Coup, with his brother, Drew Dowdle.

They employ an effective slow build in the opening scenes, and manage to include a speech or two about the ramifications of the excesses of corporate America. In fact, that theme of corporate colonialism is pretty much embedded in the premise.

But, strangely, the Dowdleys are coy about naming the particular country involved – although the film was shot in Thailand: do with that what you will -- and are curiously, questionably, xenophobically disinterested in the fates of any characters other than the nuclear family at the film's center.

And yet, on a technical level, the film is decently made, with action, editing, and subjective-point-of-view cinematography keeping the tension level admirably high throughout, and a mix of action and family dynamics striking its share of psychologically truthful notes.

So we'll relocate 2-1/2 stars out of 4 for the oddly vague but undeniably gripping international survival thriller, No Escape. Most viewers will get caught up in its legitimate suspensefulness, but others who feel the film's approach is offensive may find the title particularly and unpleasantly apt.

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