It’s the future of 2022. The world’s prisons are handled by corporations who can do whatever they want with pesky troublesome criminals. Cue new con Ray Liotta who is a former special forces marine who’s been court-martialed for murder. He has a pathological aversion to authority, is prone to violence and has escaped from two level five prisons. He’s the perfect guest for this prison where there’s no escape!
Liotta is sent over to Leviticus Level 6 Maximum Security Penitentiary where Michael Lerner is the evil warden because…well every movie prison has to have an evil warden running it. Putting Liotta in a a plain hi-tech jail cell isn’t enough, so Lerner drops him onto Absolom, a remote island prison where the worst of the worst are kept. Lerner is fine with prisoners just killing each other off, leaving it to ‘survival of the fittest’ and takes great pains that the outside never learns of goings ons on this hellish island.
Liotta soon finds himself trying to survive deadly booby traps, flying arrows, precarious cliffs and standing smack dab in the middle of two dueling warring inmate tribes led by vicious Stuart Wilson and spiritual Lance Henriksen. Fights, attacks and blood splatters commence, and in between all that perhaps a possible escape from this prison island can be pulled off too.
No Escape came out in April 1994. Released in some countries as Escape From Absolom, it didn’t do great box office or get much attention when it hit. It did get a video game based off the film for Sega Genisis, but the film itself didn’t do great box office or leave a lasting impression. It’s become one of those ‘once upon a time was a momentarily the high profile film for the week’ movies that have since disappeared in somewhat obscurity.
It was however, the movie Martin Campbell directed right before getting hired to direct Pierce Brosnan’s James Bond debut in 1995’s GoldenEye. I always suspected No Escape secured him the offer to steer the relaunched 007 ship.
I haven’t watched No Escape since seeing it in the theater that year. I thought it was a fine action flick, but nothing really that special. Fast forward twenty-six years later and I decided to give it another watch. That’s always an intriguing thing for me to do – revisit a movie that I haven’t seen for decades, only have cloudy memories of it and seeing what I think of it now.
Things haven’t really changed with my thoughts towards No Escape. Nearly three decades later, it’s still fine. It’s an old school action yarn, a predictable story, has some good performances, fun pre-CGI action bits and something of a unique action hero role for Liotta.
No Escape is almost like a bigger budget, larger scale version of Fortress (which I reviewed not too long ago), although it doesn’t have as much sci-fi elements going on as that film had.
Whereas Fortress was set exclusively in a fantastical futuristic prison with lasers, robot guards, hi-tech trackers and computer screens monitoring the inmates, No Escape is set on that jungle island with the lowest forms of primitive weapons being used for the most part. It more closely resembles a ‘Lord of the Flies’ type of story than taking advantage of future, outlandish weaponry. The premise and story is really not all that unique, but it succeeds in what you’d expect to see from it quite nicely. It’s very much a ‘guy movie’. There’s actually not one female in it!
So, Liotta is dropped onto Absolom and immediately he finds himself facing off against Marek (Wilson) who is the leader of ‘the Outsider’ tribe. These are the really bad guys. They’re bald, dirty, have scary pointy weapons. They even attack the more peaceful ‘Insiders’ on Christmas! That alone signals to you they’re real meanies.
Wilson is really enjoyable playing bad to the hilt relishing fun lines and smiling as he kills and threatens whoever he wants. He has a strange appearance with dreadlocks, odd nose piercings and his wardrobe is straight out of Mad Max. He provides most of the fun moments, like dumping a bag of severed heads on the ground and announcing he’s eliminated all the heads of state and that he really wants to be in charge.
After Liotta manages to survive the Outsiders, he moves onto the more pacifist tribe ‘the Insiders’ run by ‘the Father’ (Henriksen). This is where prisoners are farming, wearing clean clothes, have rules and are setting up an actual society for themselves. They’re the perfect enemy to the Outsiders who attack and steal their supplies whenever they can.
At first Liotta just wants off this rock of an island, but soon connects to the Insiders, befriends young Kevin Dillion and feels it would be the right thing to do to defeat the Outsiders and Marek. That’s the main thrust of the story setting the stage for island battles. There is a bit of an escape plan going on, but it’s certainly not at the forefront of the story.
Again, it’s all pretty predictable stuff and there’s no real shocking surprises that come about. However, you’d probably be watching No Escape more for the action bits, which are entertaining. During this time before CGI became integral tools in films, stunts and effects were being done the old fashioned way and much of what goes down really looks great. It’s raw and rough and doesn’t hesitate from letting blood spill.
There are some truly impressive shots. Liotta falling off a high cliff and the camera following him all the way down. A nifty stunt of one guy getting shot in the mouth with a flaming arrow. Huge explosions on a cliff face and in the Outsiders village. Top that off with some beheadings, stabbings and guys on fire, it’s enough to keep action fans entertained.
You compare that kind of stuff to a few wonky explosions that are clearly matted in a few shots – like a boat that gets destroyed in the water – and it looks like such a step back from doing the stunts and pyrotechnics for real. It stands out really badly and will make you let out a discouraged sigh. Even the prehistoric looking computer screens, that were meant to signal futuristic tech having that old clunky looking green text I envision making audiences today say, “this was meant to look futuristic?”
It’s funny, to see that stuff from films in the 1990’s and how computers evolved since. During this time it was almost a bridge between pre-computers and what would happen a decade later when computers truly ruled the world. But movies are a product of their time and that stuff was cutting edge then. You see how films presented computers at this time and today it looks like an outdated app you have on your phone.
Liotta gets to play the strong silent action role. He gets to kill guys with great ease, give laconic lines, run through the jungle, carry weapons and give off cold deadly stares – and he’s quite good. Maybe being the action hero was something he didn’t get offered much and he got pegged as being more of a movie bad guy, but No Escape shows he could’ve worn the white good guy hat and handled it just fine.
Add in reliable actors like Ernie Hudson, Dillion, Henriksen, Lerner and Wilson showboating as a dastardly baddie, No Escape is a worthy Saturday night action flick. It’s not anything extraordinary. You might not remember much from it when the final credits roll, but it delivers the goods of what you would want too see from this type of film when you’re watching it.
It was worth seeing again twenty-six years later.
The film trailer