Stephen David Miller

Startup cofounder, AI researcher, podcaster, person, etc.

Review: No Escape

An unnamed bodyguard brings a clear cocktail to a politician dressed in wildly generic Asian robes. “We have a saying in my country,” the generic politician utters with a generic bow, “the dragon of fortune has a very long tail.”

From the get go, it’s clear that No Escape has zero interest in realism or specificity. In fact, it avoids both like the plague: where the film could have easily name-dropped its location (Cambodia with a dash of Myanmar?) it instead opts for the hilariously vague. Owen Wilson’s “contracting gig” has moved him to a “fourth world country” some 14 hours away from good-ol’ Texas. “Welcome to Asia” chuckles Pierce Brosnan’s generically British douchebag, “You’re gonna love it here.” Considering just how blatantly racist any alternative would play, that goofy Kingsman-style ambiguity makes sense. When not driving terribly, failing to hold their liquor, or performing cheekily-euphemised sex work, citizens of [UNSTABLE ASIAN COUNTRY] mainly enjoy donning bandanas and brutally murdering white people. The same xenophobic fear that Argo masterfully manipulated, here gets the San Andreas treatment: you’re an alien in a strange land, the people there don’t quite like you, and, oh, also look out for that tank.

So okay, it’s pretty damn stupid. Accepting all that, and taking off any remotely socially-conscious hat, what’s left? A mostly-thrilling collection of chase scenes and checkpoints, with just enough intensity to keep it going. Remember that scene in the trailer, where Wilson throws his daughter off a roof in slow motion? That’s not even the third most ridiculous shot in this movie — hell, it’s not even the most ridiculous daughter-being-thrown-off-a-roof shot in this movie. No Escape’s stakes might be vague, but they’re absurdly high and stretched to the breaking point. So, in accordance with blockbuster tradition, the movie only really loses its steam when it tries to pause and reflect, to glean a “message” from the scorched earth where no good message can grow. Maybe that’s why the eventual ending feels so awkward and lackluster: when the bullets stop flying and an actual country gets involved, there’s literally nothing left to say.

See my review on Letterboxd