DVD Letterbox had the experience of being told this week by some helpful parents at school that our young auteur is considered the class clown. At least he’s not the class idiot. But it does mean if he ever tries show business, he’ll never be considered as seriously as the class swots who become the cold, technical — and critically acclaimed — actors.
Class clowns, or at least comic actors, may get the laughs but aren’t lauded, and many never win Academy Awards, no matter how good their performances — just ask Eddie Murphy, Sarah Silverman or Jim Carrey. (Roberto Benigni is the exception that proves the rule.)
Owen Wilson is a comedian, albeit one whose laconic persona is almost as indelible as any heightened comedy he delivers in films by Wes Anderson or others such as Zoolander. His range is limited and, to his credit, he hasn’t tried to stretch it. That makes his appearance in this week’s release, No Escape, intriguing.
Directed by John Erick Dowdle and cowritten by him with his brother Drew, the film works as a B-grade thriller (but won’t do anything for political relations between East and West). The million-dollar question is: can viewers overcome the Owen Wilson-ness of the lead character?
Wilson plays cool dad and young businessman Jack Dwyer, who lands, with his wife Annie (Lake Bell) and their two young daughters (Sterling Jerins and Claire Geare) in a Southeast Asian nation on the day of a coup (the country is unnamed but it was shot in Thailand and borders Vietnam, so let’s take an educated guess and say: Cambodia).
Jack and family are there through necessity, taking a job with a US corporation that delivers much-needed infrastructure. After a rather brutal uprising and attack on their hotel, Jack realises Westerners are being targeted due to, well, some angst about cultural imperialism (or something). Motivations, for the coup or any character, are slight in this pacy but by-the-numbers screenplay.
No Escape (MA15+, Roadshow, 103min, $29.95) becomes a chase film that, admittedly, proves rather thrilling as the family negotiates the peculiarities and perils of a lawless foreign land.
Just don’t think through its insensitivity in using the one-dimensional, evil oriental ”other” as a threat to US nobility. A late sigh by a Brit expat (played entertainingly by Pierce Brosnan) is the only apology in a film not pretending to build characterisations or nuance.
Wilson drops his laconic comic persona for a winning everyman character who doesn’t become stupidly heroic.
It works in this grim, tense tale cum lowbudget horror. Just don’t bother trying to parse its politics.