It's hardly essential viewing, but "No Escape" is a tense, at times riveting action-thriller about innocents abroad. Supersize your popcorn, check your logic at the door and settle in for a pretty good ride.
Engineer Jack Dwyer (Owen Wilson) has picked the world's worst day to relocate his family — wife Annie (Lake Bell), young daughters Lucy (Sterling Jerins) and Beeze (Claire Geare), all moving from Austin, Texas, to Southeast Asia, where Jack's starting a job at an international conglomerate. Shortly after landing in this unidentified land (the film was shot in Thailand), the Dwyers become trapped in the midst of a political coup in which armed rebels are murdering seemingly everyone in sight, including the prime minister.
That these merciless insurgents are protesting a dubious shift in the country's water delivery system is of particular trouble to Jack: His new employer is the company behind said shift. Add that Jack's photo is plastered on highly visible corporate welcome banners, and the Dwyers might as well have targets painted on their American backs.
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The mayhem comes fast and furious once Jack realizes the enormity of the situation and rebels storm the Dwyers' high-rise hotel. What follows is essentially one long, twisty, often frightening chase as the Dwyers band together to escape to safety across the Vietnam border amid mounting tragedy.
Helping the family is a jaunty if mysterious British rogue, Hammond (Pierce Brosnan), who makes their acquaintance on the plane ride in, does some quick buddy-bonding with Jack, then disappears for stretches until factoring in again toward the end.
Co-writer Drew Dowdle and co-writer and director John Erick Dowdle, the brothers behind such genre films as "Quarantine" and "As Above, So Below," attempt to infuse their loaded story with enough personal perspective and intimate emotion to offset — or maybe justify — all the roiling action. But they only partly succeed.
What Jack and Annie physically endure to protect themselves and their children goes a long way in keeping the movie watchable. But save their late-breaking and well-played life discussion and declaration of love, we never learn enough about the couple to feel more than viscerally invested in their plight.
The movie's most stressful scene, which involves the family's death-defying leap across a pair of rooftops, triggered unintended laughter from a preview audience, but that may not be the universal reaction. Ham-fisted as the set piece might be, it's heart-in-mouth time. It's fair to say that what Lucy and Beeze are forced to witness here, if experienced by real-life children, would likely take years of psychotherapy to unwind.
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 his part, a kind of distant cousin to his role in the 2005 dark comedy "The Matador," feels too minor and wedged in here to truly matter.
The movie's epilogue could use an epilogue; there's a strange lack of finality here. In addition, some of the film's sociopolitical messaging involving evil corporate greed, violent extremism and white privilege becomes muddled. But as an escape from the late-summer heat, you could do far worse than this hard-working nail-biter.
MPAA rating: R, for strong violence, language
Running time: 1 hour, 43 minutes
Playing: In general release