I didn’t realize it at the time, but my love of movies arose in middle and high school. Not for subtitled things in black and white, either. The stuff they showed on HBO and USA networks.
As a result, my platonic ideal of film is a doofy ‘90s action movie.
Shockingly, they don’t all hold up. But in the case of 1994’s No Escape, it was actually a little smarter than I remembered.
Jailed for executing his commanding officer, Ray Liotta has escaped from every prison he’s been sent to. But when he’s dumped on a prison island, there’s nowhere to run to -- and a war is brewing between the island’s two factions.
Set in 2022, No Escape is based on the ludicrous premise that prisons would be privatized, turned over to big business to be run for a profit. Why not throw in calculus-solving dragons while you’re at it? Or a planet where monkeys evolved from men? You would have to be some kind of grinning sociopath to turn the punishment of humans into a for-profit industry. Am I right?
Even though it might be preposterously far-fetched, the basic concept of No Escape is nothing original. Stories of isolated people forced to form new societies have existed since the first guy refused to bathe after a mammoth hunt. Also, it basically boils down to a struggle between a peaceful, good tribe, and a violent, evil tribe. Nothing all that deep.
Yet there’s something compelling about it. It’s not the protagonist. He’s your typical guy who’s so tough he doesn’t need to hurt his enemies until they act like real jerks and it’s finally time to drop them through a helicopter blade. It’s not the writing, either, which is nice for a silly sci-fi action movie, but a bit melodramatic.
I think what’s always gotten me about No Escape is the world. While the bad guys are your typical troop of tire-wearing barbarians, the good guys are an actual assortment. A security guy, an engineer, a visionary leader, a fat guy who likes to knit. Just like every society needs. They’re played by a first-rate group of "those guys," too. The kind of character actors you wouldn’t recognize by name even when it is literally part of your job to know their names, but who you like and recognize from all the other movies they’ve been in.
That’s right, folks! See No Escape because it has actors you’re vaguely familiar with! But also to see an idea that’s always fun played out with an engaging cast of characters. As everyone on the island struggles to get out, you might wish you could stay for just a little longer.