Semi-Great ‘Escape’

Thriller packs killer tension, imperialism slam

The summer film that delivers the most white-knuckle tension doesn’t feature a superhero or “Furious” car crash.

It’s a late summer entry that shows the lengths parents will go to in order to keep their children safe.

“No Escape” is hard to classify all the same. It’s a thriller steeped in anti-western bromides. It gives comic cut-up Owen Wilson the chance to save the day, not steal a scene. The story nearly totters from all the dopey logistics, but the chase sequences are directed with a master’s touch.

It also manipulates our emotions far too much in the final reel, but until then it’s as thrilling as any movie you’ll see this year … or maybe next.

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Wilson stars as Jack, a water company engineer moving his family to an unnamed Asian country for work. It’s clear he once had higher aspirations, but the new position is as good as he can expect at the moment. He barely settles in before revolution seizes the land. Rebels have killed the prime minister, and now bands of armed men roam the street, slaughtering every American in sight.

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That leaves Jack to protect his wife (Lake Bell) and two daughters (Sterling Jerins and Claire Geare). They don’t speak the local language, have no weapons and aren’t sure who they can trust. They have each other, though, and Momma and Poppa will become as heroic as necessary to save their daughters.

It’s a simple enough scenario, but director John Erick Dowdle made it count thanks to some of the most inspired editing in any action movie. The family escapes one near-death situation after the other, with Jack screwing up enough courage without resorting to Schwarzenegger-style heroics. He’s an Everyman to the core, and the film is all the better for it.

If you want to avoid story spoilers, don’t look at the film’s official poster.

What makes “No Escape” so captivating is the family in peril. The early scenes set the tone, rendering the clan in the kind of realistic brush strokes thrillers rarely attempt. Wilson and Bell are instantly relatable, their children feel like the kids you leave at the babysitters to see this kind of R-rated entertainment.

The lack of political and geographic details gnaw at the film’s reality but not enough to spoil the fun. That happens later, when a supporting character delivers a western imperialism rant so warmed over Noam Chomsky would cluck his tongue at it.for-adults

Then there are the plot coincides arriving just in the nick of time, including Pierce Brosnan’s mysterious ex-pat with a yen for bad karaoke. Oh, and if you want to avoid story spoilers, don’t look at the film’s official poster. Sloppy, gang. Sloppy.

Those offended by seeing children in peril should stay far away from “Escape.” The same holds for audiences sick of Western-based movies serving up limp moral relativism.

Yet the film’s mid-section, when the family is scrambling for its life, is so exquisitely choreographed it renders every criticism moot. It’s hard not to recommend that audiences swallow hard and try this “Escape.”

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