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The Best Movie You Never Saw: No Escape (1994)

07.28.2017

Welcome to The Best Movie You NEVER Saw, a column dedicated to examining films that have flown under the radar or gained traction throughout the years, earning them a place as a cult classic or underrated gem that was either before it’s time and/or has aged like a fine wine.

This week we’ll be looking at NO ESCAPE!

THE STORY: In the dystopian future, a soldier, Robbins (Ray Liotta), murders his commanding officer and is sent to a nightmarish penal colony called Absolom- an island ruled by Cannibals. They are led by the charismatic and sadistic Marek (Stuart Wilson). Escaping his captors, he falls-in with a society of non-violent ex-prisoners, led by The Father (Lance Henriksen), who preaches redemption – but for Robbins, the only thing that matters is escape.

THE PLAYERS: Starring: Ray Liotta, Lance Henriksen, Stuart Wilson, Kevin Dillon and Ernie Hudson. Music by Graeme Revell. Directed by Martin Campbell.

THE HISTORY: I’d call NO ESCAPE an obscure but important film. It’s the latter because it was the movie that landed director Martin Campbell GOLDENEYE, a movie which reignited the James Bond franchise after it almost petered out in the late eighties, with Campbell returning once again to launch Daniel Craig in 2006’s CASINO ROYALE. It might be a bit of a stretch, but were it not for NO ESCAPE, the Bond series might not have made it out of the nineties.

Of course, the isn’t an article about 007, but rather a film that’s so obscure, The Weinstein Company poached the title for their Owen Wilson-starrer of the same name, a film which coincidentally co-starred Pierce Brosnan. Produced by Gale Anne Hurd post-TERMINATOR 2, NO ESCAPE was one of the few movies put out by Savoy Pictures, a company that was briefly prominent in the mid-nineties. They initially made a lot of noise in the business when they paid Sylvester Stallone $20 million to star in a movie that never actually got made, and thus changed the idea of what superstars should be paid, leading to tons of them getting $20 million pay days, something which backfired badly if their films didn’t perform.

Savoy’s lineup was notoriously poor, with giant flops like EXIT TO EDEN and DESTINY TURNS ON THE RADIO. Their only modest success was the Robert De Niro-directed drama A BRONX TALE. NO ESCAPE, boasting a $20 million budget, was an attempt by them to break into genre, and they managed to land Ray Liotta, who was on a career-high after GOODFELLAS and UNLAWFUL ENTRY, for the lead – which would give him a chance to shed the bad-guy image he was famous for. They actually managed to open at number one their first weekend, but NO ESCAPE wasn’t able to sustain any kind of box-office momentum, and in the end only eked out $15 million at the box office.

WHY IT'S GREAT: NO ESCAPE was a bit of a cult video in the mid-nineties thanks to the futuristic premise and hardcore action quotient. As a twelve-year-old, I remember being blown away by how unapologetically brutal it was, and twenty-three years later it holds up as a solid actioner, albeit one that’s cheesy in certain respects. For one thing, NO ESCAPE is another one of those movies that totally screwed up their pessimistic vision of the future, imagining 2022 as a hellish future where prisoners are sent to remote islands to be hunted by cannibals. Unless things really go to hell in the next five years, that seems unlikely. The VFX in the early scenes, set in a futuristic prison, also don’t hold up, paling next to a much cheaper, similarly themed action from the era, FORTRESS (with Christopher Lambert!).

Once the movie becomes a variation on MOST DANGEROUS GAME, where Liotta has to survive on the island, NO ESCAPE picks up big time, mostly due to the well-staged action and top-notch cast. Even back then, Martin Campbell had a flair for carnage, and the numerous chase scenes and fights are good enough that one can see why EON snapped him up for GOLDENEYE. It helps that Liotta makes for a credible anti-hero, with his intensity giving his character an unpredictable streak, and the decision to only reveal his motivations for killing his C.O late in the film is a good one, as for much of the film we don’t really know if we’re supposed to be rooting for him or not – a daring move in an action flick.

The supporting cast is great, with Lance Henriksen ideally cast as the peace-loving father, while Ernie Hudson is his tough, but loyal second-in-command. But, the real scene-stealer here is Stuart Wilson. Coming off his bad guy turn in LETHAL WEAPON 3, Wilson is on-fire as the magnetic Marek, the head of the cannibal tribe, who, we sense, would rather Liotta just join his gang and be his pal, as he’s the only one to show any wit. Funny and unpredictable, had NO ESCAPE been more wildly seen, it would have likely established Wilson as a premiere baddie, although Campbell himself reused Wilson to strong effect three years later in THE MASK OF ZORRO. The score by Graeme Revell also deserves praise, as it was one of his first big assignments, and helped establish him as one of the go-to genre composers of the late-nineties, early-00’s.

BEST SCENE: A great one. Liotta gets dropped on the island, and is immediately picked up by Wilson’s gang, who, assuming he’s going to be a pushover, try to make him take on a hulking member of their tribe in hand-to-hand combat. No fool, the way Liotta deals with the threat, and Wilson's reaction, make this a priceless action moment – one of the best sequences Campbell ever directed.

SEE IT: Here’s where it gets complicated. Like the last film I wrote up, RICOCHET, NO ESCAPE’s home video rights belong (or at least belonged) to HBO, who’ve seemingly lost interest in all the theatrical movies in their catalog (only A BRONX TALE has gotten a half-decent DVD release). Thus, this one has a very poor bare-bones DVD release from the late-nineties (which you can still pick up very cheaply- although it’s non-anamorphic crap), although, like RICOCHET, a much better version of the movie is “available” if you know where to look.

PARTING SHOT: NO ESCAPE is probably the most obscure movie I’ve ever written-up for this column, and the tricky rights issue means it’s not the easiest one to track down, at least if you want to see a well-presented version of the film. Still, it’s worth the effort, especially if hardcore action movies from this era are your thing – as they are mine. It would be great if a company like Shout Factory gave this one a good HD upgrade.

Source: JoBlo.com

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