Critical Mass: No Escape puts Owen Wilson in the wrong place at the wrong time

It’s been a long time since Owen Wilson pulled on his action-hero boots, and his tenure as an easy-going dude in romantic comedies theoretically suits his character in No Escape. After all, when the audience sees Wilson and his family obliviously stumble into a violent uprising in some unspecified southeast Asian country, where roaming rebels target white foreigners like himself, it’s not difficult to think, “Whoa, what in the hell is the guy from Wedding Crashers and Midnight in Paris going to do when he gets cornered by that man with the bloody machete?”

Wilson, his unhappy wife (Lake Bell), and their two daughters have just arrived for his new corporate job far, far away from home when the violence explodes, and their only ally in the mayhem is a weary ex-pat with a specific set of skills (Pierce Brosnan). At its core, then, the film is about a family, and what an average Joe like you or me would do to keep loved ones safe in the most horrible of circumstances. 

Unfortunately, No Escape, which is directed by John Erick Dowdle (Quarantine), is being tarred by reviews that are not only negative, but include the never-good labels like “xenophobic,” “sadistic,” and “racist.” “This thriller … is a zombie movie in form and function,” writes EW’s Kevin P. Sullivan, in his D review. “But here, the bloodthirsty hordes aren’t undead — they’re just citizens of an unidentified Asian nation who are given no depth or motivation beyond wanting to kill innocent white people.”

To read more of Sullivan’s review and a sampling of other critics from across the country, scroll below:

Kevin P. Sullivan (Entertainment Weekly) ▼
“Even ignoring the racism — which is pretty much impossible — No Escape is a cliché-ridden, artless relic.”

Walter Addiego (San Francisco Chronicle)
“The film has an air of clumsiness that detracts from our enjoying the spectacle of Owen Wilson as an action hero, and relishing the (limited) presence of Pierce Brosnan, amusing as usual. No Escape is simply about run and hide and run again.”

Peter Keough (Boston Globe)
“This latest film by brothers John Erick and Drew Dowdle might talk liberal milksop politics, but what it shows on the screen is the same old hatred and fear of the alien other. No one watching will be thinking about U.S. culpability when some freak with a machete gets his head bashed in by a desk lamp. No Escape is a tense but utterly predictable exercise in Western xenophobic paranoia and guilt.”

Justin Chang (Variety)
“The film itself, for all its pretensions to realism, runs more and more off the rails as it keeps yanking the characters out of hiding and thrusting them in harm’s way. It’s a strategy that increasingly depends on our seeing the locals as little more than knife-wielding, rape-threatening savages, to which the only reasonable response is to question the sadism of those behind the camera.”

Jake Coyle (Associated Press)
“The action, too, is breathless, as Jack leads his family (sometimes with the help of Pierce Brosnan’s CIA agent) from one close scrap to another, never pausing for a deeper understanding of the turmoil, always elevated by the easy suspense of children in peril. Around them fall countless victims. But their stories aren’t part of No Escape. They’re just exotic scenery.”

Stephanie Merry (Washington Post)
“As the movie wears on, however, the gore is increasingly over-the-top, as each of the family’s encounters with bad guys becomes more and more sickening. Meanwhile, every Asian character is either a ruthless murderer or anonymous collateral damage. A lot of locals have to die, the film suggests, in order for one white family to survive.”

Gary Goldstein (Los Angeles Times)
“Wilson proves surprisingly effective as an everyday man of action yet retains enough of his trademark wry charm to feel real. Bell is also quite good as a supportive wife forced to fight and face a few harsh truths about human behavior. Brosnan, charisma intact, makes the most of his limited screen time [but] feels too minor and wedged in here to truly matter.”

Daniel M. Gold (New York Times)
“For Mr. Wilson, this is probably just a detour from his usual comedic roles. Mr. Brosnan, though, continues to shed the smooth and silky customs of his James Bond days. Among the most terrifying scenes is an early shot of Mr. Brosnan in the hotel bar, shouting lyrics to a Huey Lewis tune. Oh, the horror.”

Richard Roeper (Chicago Sun-Times)
“Brosnan’s a hoot playing a grizzled ex-pat who wears a tiger’s tooth around his neck, sports a variety of nasty scars and talks of once having had a family of his own. It’s as if his James Bond had been booted from the MI6 in favor of a guy who looks like Daniel Craig, and now he’s skulking about in the shadows as a gun for hire.”

Stephen Dalton (Hollywood Reporter)
“The characters are two-dimensional at best, or no-dimensional when it comes to the nameless Asian bad guys, bloodthirsty savages straight out of Team America: World Police. But Dowdle shows a confident hand in the action scenes, which mostly have the kinetic, hand-held, visceral feel of genuine war-zone reportage.”

Ignatiy Vishnevetsky (The A.V. Club)
No Escape attempts to interject some commentary about unchecked Western business interests while trying its darndest to offend no one in particular. The result is as incoherent as the movie’s action scenes. Whether the Dwyers are trapped on a hotel roof or wading through a crowd of marchers in disguise, Dowdle … manages to find a way to lose momentum or undercut suspense.”

Overall Metacritic rating (1-100): 39
Rotten Tomatoes: 41 percent

Rated: R
Length: 101 minutes
Starring Owen Wilson, Lake Bell, Pierce Brosnan
Directed by John Erick Dowdle
Distributor: The Weinstein Company