No Escape

No Escape, the number one movie at the box-office, is a synthetic pastiche of sci-fi action movies, specifically the Mad Max films, and conventional prison dramas. This senseless, incoherent mishmash probably achieved popularity because it was the only action picture at the movie market.

Set in 2022, saga begins in ultra-security, high-tech prison, where a ruthless warden (Michael Lerner) tortures John Robbins (Ray Liotta), a Marine Capt. convicted of murdering his officer. As a punishment, Liotta is sent to Absolom, a hidden jungle where the most dangerous inmates are left to die. On the island, Liotta encounters its two resident but antagonistic communities: the Outsiders, an anarchic group of savages led by Marek (Stuart Wilson), and the Insiders, peaceful colonists whose leader is a compassionate man who calls himself the Father (Lance Henriksen).

After some brutally nasty battles with Wilson, the wounded Liotta somehow manages to escape to the Insiders, where he finds a home. Unfortunately, once he lands there the adventure settles into a moralistic tale of renewal and redemption, with occasional bursts of violence that are mechanically engineered.

Following the tradition of prison stories, screenwriters Michael Gaylin and Joel Gross fashion a diverse group of inmates, including Hawkins (Ernie Hudson), a quiet but severe security chief, Dysart (Jack Shepherd), an ingenious inventor, and King (Ian McNeice), who's charge of the members' well being.

Director Campbell doesn't furnish his film with the verve, high-strung pace, and tension to elevate it above a standard prison camp escape yarn. No Escape is constructed with enough calculation to build a computer, but its story lacks credibility and meaningful political context. There are too many lingering close-ups of Liotta's beautiful blue eyes, long shots of the ocean, and vast silences.

Liotta makes a valiant effort as the tough but sensitive Marine, who's determined to escape against all odds to vindicate his name and tell the “Truth” about his past. And though it's refreshing to see an action hero not in the comic strip mold of Stallone or Schwarzenegger, Liotta is not very commanding. As the heavy, Stuart Wilson goes for the cynical, malevolent humor that worked well for Alan Rickman's villains (in Die Hard, Robin Hood), but the writing doesn't support his ambition.

No Escape has its fair share of bloody fistfights–and some off-putting decapitations–but ultimately the futuristic, prison, and action elements don't jell and the end result is a hodgepodge with some good moments but no grip or dramatic excitement.