Directed by Martin Campbell, this futuristic prison flick comes at you as a big scale entertainment that is a cross between a jungle warfare movie, Papillon and Escape From New York. As much as I like both the film and it’s leading man Ray Liotta, I honestly feel this action flick is missing one thing, and that’s a 1994 primed and ready Arnold Schwarzenegger as well as a supreme villain in the style of a Willem Dafoe or a Lance Henriksen going over the top.
And wouldn’t you know it, Henriksen is indeed in this film and as good as he is he’s in the wrong damned role. He’s a gentle yet firm leader known as “The Father.”
As it stands this solid effort stars Liotta as one of those ex soldiers with dozens of citations and medals on his war record. A definite staple of most any action movie over the last 30 plus years. It’s 2022 and prisons have become big business. Delivered by a futuristic railway to his final stop in the penal system, Ray is now incarcerated in a prison overseen by Michael Lerner as an unsavory warden. There’s a great scene between the two when Lerner warns Ray to follow orders or suffer and Ray promptly replies, “Don’t ever turn your back on me again.”
These two are headed to a major clash.
It won’t be long before Ray is pulled from the high security prison and dumped on an off the charts island where men are left to fend for themselves. It quickly becomes a survival of the fittest, dog eat dog existence for our leading man. Ray will soon find himself captured by a gang of cutthroats led by Stuart Wilson as the chief baddie dressed as if he’s a Klingon Warrior castoff with the big hair and facial ornaments to match. Wilson would go on to work with the director again playing the villain in The Mask of Zorro opposite Anthony Hopkins and Antonio Banderas to much better effect as a pompous man of means looking to take over California and stealing lovely Catherine Zeta Jones from her rightful Daddy. I’m not sure if it’s the script or the delivery but Wilson’s attempt here to play it over the top falls flat for me and the many tasteless jokes he delivers are just plain bad.
Like Kurt Russell in Escape From New York, Ray is going to be tossed in with a scary looking dude in a fight to the death and upon surviving this he-man test, he’ll quickly decide to pass on his newfound friends taking off into the jungles with a prized weapon formerly in Wilson’s possession. Wilson isn’t amused and the chase is on through the island’s jungles. The end result will be a barely alive Ray and the all important weapon going over a waterfall to the valley below where those who have decided to serve their time in peace and harmony have built themselves a fort to live behind, safe from all harm that Wilson and company would inflict upon them.
Might there even be a bit of Ladd’s Shane in here? That’s a stretch but Ray’s cold assassin will quickly find a follower when Kevin Dillon begins following him around like a puppy dog in hero worship mode. Henriksen as The Father controls the fort and Ernie Hudson handles all the security details. Henriksen sees an ally in Ray if he can only convince him to stay and live peacefully with the rest. Ray on the other hand has ideas of his own and like McQueen’s Papillon wants off the island and will spend the rest of the movie trying to figure out just how he can succeed.
Still to come is a major battle between the two “tribes” and a very Spartacus like battle when Ray and Kevin are captured and pitted against each other as we near the fadeout. Yes there are plenty of films I can look at that may or may not have inspired the script put together by Michael Gaylin and Joel Gross from a novel by Richard Herley. Hell, we could have had Arnold deliver another “Get to the chopper!” near the climax of the film that sees due justice delivered to all who have wronged Ray over the course of the past couple hours.
I hope I haven’t come across as being too hard on this film that features some great sets and battles. I DO LIKE IT. It’s just that it really screams out at me for some heavyweight star power and had Arnold or Sly or whomever been delivered, I think the film would be high on their list of action adventures. Campbell surely must have impressed because he’d be following this up with Goldeneye after being recruited into the world of James Bond. Trivia hounds might notice he directed that first Pierce Brosnan Bond adventure and would return to MI6 to helm the first Daniel Craig effort, Casino Royale, as well.
No Escape would seem a perfect fit from the likes of Scream Factory or Arrow Video on blu ray. It’s a nice addition to the futuristic world of prisons that have been handed to us in a number of feature films from the Kurt Russell classic to lesser efforts like Fortress starring Christopher Lambert and even nowadays the trend continues with films like Escape Plan starring ……… wouldn’t you know it, Arnold and Sly. Isn’t that ironic.
If you can locate a copy of this one I think you’ll like it but I’ll be curious to hear if you agree with my assessment on the lack of a big time action star.