No Escape | Movie+TV Reviews | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

Published September 2, 2015 at 10:00 a.m.
Updated September 7, 2015 at 11:20 a.m.

Owen Wilson finds himself "behind enemy lines" again, only this time he doesn't play a naval aviator (as he did in that 2001 film), and he's far from Serbia. He's a company man named Jack Dwyer who has transplanted his wife (Lake Bell) and two young daughters from Texas to an unnamed Southeast Asian nation bearing a striking resemblance to Cambodia. Turns out this is not merely a bad career move. It's a bad move, period.

Especially for Jack, who works for a U.S. conglomerate that has taken control of the country's water supply. Not the brightest bulb on the Christmas tree, he insists at one point, "I thought we were here to do good." To add fuel to the fire, his employer thoughtfully pasted Jack's face all over promotional banners announcing the company's upcoming conference in the capital.

Being the face of American greed has its downside. The morning after the family's arrival, protesters flood the streets, overwhelm police and stage a bloody coup, assassinating the country's leader and executing Americans on sight. Jack goes out for a paper and can't find anything but an old USA Today. Just when he thinks his luck couldn't get worse, he finds himself in the middle of the melee. Recognized by the protest's leader, he barely makes it back to the hotel alive. Compared with what comes next, that was a visit to the hotel spa.

Director John Erick Dowdle (Quarantine) is not kidding around. His intent is to put an ordinary American family in the way of the kind of harm that Westerners the world over face today with increasing frequency. ISIS is going to give this film five stars and use pirated copies as recruitment tools.

The casting's genius. Wilson and Bell aren't action types. Their characters didn't pack a couple of Glocks and a few thousand rounds just in case. When masked men storm the hotel and begin butchering anyone with white skin, their panic and protective reflexes come across as uncomfortably credible.

For a solid hour, the parents are in constant, white-knuckle motion, acting on adrenaline and instinct to stay one step ahead of the revolutionaries, who've made Jack their special project. The experience is exhaustingly realistic. Wilson and Bell won't be receiving nominations for their performances, but they're as convincing as anything I've seen this year.

And who should show up to save the day but our old buddy Pierce Brosnan? He's marvelous in the role of Hammond, a grizzled lush with a fondness for strip clubs who turns out to work for the British military.

Besides his skill with a gun, Hammond reveals a quick wit and a sense of the absurd, qualities welcome in an enterprise of this intensity. For the uninformed, he breaks down the politics behind the revolution, going so far as to apologize for his part in a system designed to pauperize third-world populations by tricking their governments into handing over rights to their resources. "I'm sorry, I helped to put you in this situation," he confesses — before proposing a way out and offering the family a dinner of grilled dog.

I'm not sure why this movie is proving to be the Rodney Dangerfield of late-summer fare. It's the most pulse-pounding, immersive and politically charged picture I've seen this year. The Milk Duds, the Pepsi, even the restroom will have to wait. You'll be powerless to leave the edge of your seat — a reality there's no escaping.