Monday, August 31, 2015

No Escape

What's a guy to do? You stick a big, fat anti-West message in your suspense/thriller, and still you're accused of being racist, xenophobic, and just an all around jerk. Well, my heart goes out to John Erick Dowdle and Drew Dowdle, makers of fine fare such as Quarantine and Devil, who've crafted a solid potboiler about fleeing from a foreign city during a revolution, but made the mistake of not making the heroes Swahili and setting it in Seattle.

Hand to God, the first guy out of the theater after us said, "It was good! It was racist, but it was good."

I wanted to stop him and say, "Hey, here's a movie about Cambodian revolution, where one group of Cambodians is, by and large, killing another group of Cambodians (and also all the Americans), where the good guys and the bad guys are all freakin' Cambodians—how is any of this racist?" But he was on his way to the bathroom, and these conversations never go well anyway.

It's racist because it...uh...shows non-white people in a negative light. We're gonna pretend that far worse didn't happen in Cambodia not long ago. We're gonna pretend that it's any different from Les Miserable, for that matter.

'cause it makes us feel good.

Oh, by the way, they don't actually say it's Cambodia, but Cambodia was convinced enough to ban the film. And, hell, their goal is to follow the river into Vietnam. I guess it could be Laos. But it was Cambodia.

Nonsense aside, this is, as I said, a solid film, in the mold of The Warriors, Blackhawk Down, '71, or any of the multitude of non-Asian-based "trapped in a hostile foreign city" movies. The twist is, instead of a band of soldiers, we have poor sap Owen Wilson and his hapless family who arrive in The Unnamed Southeast Asian City six hours after a bloody uprising has occurred. Especially unfortunate for Owen and Co., the impetus for the uprising is centered around his new boss, who is in some sort of public utilities business.

This is one of The Boy's (and my) favorite genres of films. Outnumbered, angry mobs at every turn, not knowing who to trust, and the movie starts out with a bang by putting the wife and kids in jeopardy.

It's really a good gimmick, putting a family into the mix. I feel like we've seen it before but I can't place where.

This movie has quite a few really excellent aspects: The suspense is pretty strong, especially at first. The characterization (despite what you may have read) is also very good, and is shored up by excellent acting from Wilson, Lake Bell (In A World), and the two cute little girls who round out their family. When the movie takes a break from the action, it fills the pauses with some effective drama and even realistic family moments. (Like your post-toddler having to go to the bathroom and being too embarrassed to go in her pants, because she's not a baby! Oh, but if anyone moves, you'll all get hacked to death.)

There are some missteps. Early on, when the family is contemplating jumping from one building roof to a nearby one, there's an extra standing around who appears to have as his only purpose being murdered so as to show how dangerous things are.

The biggest misstep comes at the end of the second act, though, with Pierce Brosnan. Now, Brosnan shows up early on, and he's obviously A Serious Dude, and Brosnan is certainly up to portraying a grizzled (yet handsome) mercenary/operative/super-spy/whatever. But tonally, his appearance deflates the real dread the film had managed to create. His character is too Hollywood, as The Boy put it.

His appearance signals what kind of movie we're in and how it's going to turn out. It didn't ruin it for me, and The Boy was quick to say that he really enjoyed it—he just wanted more with all the potential that was there. We've talked a lot about that extra layer of polish and love you see in some movies (whether it's The Third Man or City of Mice 2), and he felt that extra something was missing here. Left out in haste, perhaps.

I would still rate this higher than the 72% audience RT score, but the 40% score is just embarrassing to the critical establishment. Learn the difference between racism and justified xenophobia, guys.

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