New guest writer Dylan Jaggard reviews No Escape, the anti-going-on-holiday-film that’ll put you off going anywhere ever again. With some borderline racism and a largely faceless supporting cast of people who live in, er, ‘Asia’ (the location is deliberately not mentioned), what lessons can we learn from Owen and Lake when they’re acting all serious and shit?
The plot of “No Escape” revolves around an American family moving to a country called ‘Asia’ in the hopes of making a new start. The father, Jack Dwyer (Owen Wilson), has pretty much fucked everything up in the US, but a new job working as a men’s room attendant, or something to do with water anyway, promises big bucks. Unfortunately, Jack picks the one day to move his wife Annie (Lake Bell) and two young daughters to ‘Asia’ when a civil war is brewing. Civil wars are a messy business, as all Americans ought to know from their history lessons. These days though, they normally just happen in ‘Africa’. Whoulda thunk that ‘Asia’ might also be vulnerable to the machinations of violent political upheaval? Not Jack, that’s fo sure.
On the plane over, the family happen to be sat in front of an expat named Hammond (Pierce Brosnan). Brosnan’s Bond credentials will come in handy later (although he’s obviously not a patch on Roger Moore) but to begin with his character is basically introduced as a sex tourist. When the plane finally lands, their ride to the hotel is nowhere to be seen. Hammond comes to the rescue and gets them a lift with a local driver who is obsessed with country music star Kenny Rogers. He even likes to be called Kenny. You’d think the family would be grateful for an oasis of America in this desert of foreigners, but they’re not. Plus Kenny the driver is Asian, which automatically means he is a terrible driver. The Dwyer family are already putting their lives on the line and they haven’t even got to their hotel.
The hotel turns out to be a fucking nightmare. There’s a light switch that doesn’t work. There’s no TV. There’s no internet. This gives rise to Jack referring to ‘Asia’ as the Third World. And Annie goes one worse and calls it the Fourth World. It’s a shithole basically. She ends up crying in the bathroom and it’s all his fault.
Next day Jack goes to buy a paper. But that goes really badly. When he quite naturally demands a newspaper in English the guy can only come up with a USA Today from like three days ago. Being an affable soul he takes it anyway and heads back to the hotel. But if he thought abroad was pretty crappy thus far, he’s in for a huge kick in the nuts. Suddenly he’s confronted with two gangs of armed foreigners, one made up of the local constabulary, the other made up of insurrectionist types. Shit just got super real.
Turns out that some of the locals are none too happy about Jack’s water works. When he makes it back to the hotel he witnesses a fellow American having his brains blown out in front of an angry mob. ‘They’re killing foreigners,’ he tells Annie. But for the most part it is a bunch of faceless Asians that receive a call from the grim reaper. An Australian (Crocodile Dundee, who even cares?) and a Frenchman (cheese eating surrender monkey) are massacred before our eyes, but we are not party to the deaths of any more Americans throughout the rest of the movie. Jack and his family seem to have this duck and cover shit off to a tee. Not so everyone else. Instead of hiding from the bullets these other unfortunates decide that the best tactic is to just run around in the open until they are slaughtered.
Not that the family don’t have their fair share of trials to endure. In one ridiculous scene Jack has to throw his two kids over a gap between two tall buildings (naturally the Asian who was helping him is shot mid-air and falls to his death). Later on he has to beat one of the faceless Asian bad guys to death and he just feels awful about it. He also gets the bejesus beaten out of him a couple of times and is shot in a convenient non-life threatening way. Annie is beaten and very nearly raped but isn’t thanks to a timely intervention by James Bond and Kenny Rogers. Asia really does suck the donkey’s dick bigtime.
If the picture I have painted of this movie so far makes it look xenophobic and reactionary it’s because in many respects it is. Sure, in terms of action and thrills it certainly delivers, but at times it is shockingly parochial, not to say borderline racist. However, there are a couple of aspects to this movie that, whilst not exactly saving it, show that perhaps underneath the veneer of repulsive Hollywood clichés about the dangers of leaving the safety of Uncle Sam’s wonderland, there might be a more serious point to make about neo-colonialism and the parochial attitudes at the heart of the American psyche. I say ‘might have’ because this auto-deconstructionist line is not given nearly enough weight. And that’s a real shame, as this movie would have been a whole lot better for it.
Jack is thanking Hammond for his timely prevention of the death of his family and for providing them with shelter in a brothel and food (dog, to be precise, but the kids are told it’s chicken so that’s fine). Hammond admits that his own involvement in the civil uprising goes a bit deeper than Jack suspects. Essentially he is some kind of facilitator. The Brits and Uncle Sam spotted an opportunity to make big bucks via this water company. They lend the government of ‘Asia’ a stack of money which they have no hope of ever repaying. They bring in their own workers to complete the project. And afterwards they own Asia’s ass. The locals are understandably upset by all this. Like Jack, they are simply concerned about their own families. This speech really cuts to the heart of the matter. Wealth is essentially a zero-sum game. The prosperity of richer countries is predicated upon the poverty of poorer nations. Unfortunately it is just one speech. There is no visual representation of the economic hardship suffered by the locals. There is no dialogue concerning this issue between the Dwyer family and the insurgents.
It turns out that the title of the movie is a bit of a misnomer. There is an escape. They just have to paddle up the river whilst being shot at from the shore by the baddie Asians. And that escape leads them to Vietnam. Ironically, the all-American Dwyer family will find sanctuary in a country that was subject to some of the worst excesses of US colonialism. It could be coincidence, but in the light of the Hammond speech, I read this as a deliberate subversive move on the part of the filmmakers. The family claim asylum and live happy ever after. Although their ordeal will probably leave them with post-traumatic stress disorder, but the movie is over, so who cares?
ABOUT THE WRITER: Dylan Jaggard has a PhD in Philosophy and a crush on Khloé Kardashian. He’s taught at Birkbeck College and the University of Southampton, and specialises in Continental Philosophy. He’s published essays on Nietzsche’s Aesthetics and Ethics, and flash fiction. He hates that people don’t know the difference between envy and jealousy.