No Escape (1994) — Not to spoil anything, but there’s an escape

“This place will now be your holding pen until your death, because death is the only way out. There is no chance of reprieve here, no possibility of escape.”

Justin’s rating: It’s also a Christmas movie!

Justin’s review: While I certainly never want to go to prison and I’m not much for prison movies set in the contemporary world, there’s something about a scifi movie prison that is like total catnip to me. Incarceration with a scifi twist is an irresistible combination. I thought so when I saw No Escape back in ’94, and I think so today.

According to the intro, the year is 2022 and prisons are being run across the globe for profit by corporations. Well, that checks out. There are a lot of rocket-powered monorails screaming across the wasteland, but that might be a new Disney ride, I don’t know. In any case, during a military review, a soldier breaks ranks and point-blank shoots his commanding officer in the head. This is John Robbins (Ray Liotta), a Marine who is none too pleased at being ordered to shoot civilians in Benghazi.

Robbins proves himself to be a capable escape monkey, busting out of various joints and being a plucky pain in the rump that earns our favor. When he attempts to make a break from a rather terrible Level 6 penitentiary, Robbins is dumped off at the very end of the penal system, which is a resort tropical island where happy groups of easy-going partiers hang out for the rest of their life.

Well, I may have glossed over the murder gangs and the fact that there is (wait for it) NO ESCAPE from the island of Absolom. But to my eyes, it’s a serious upgrade. I mean, you’ve gone from a cold, oppressive steel prison where they routinely torture inmates to a large and lush island out under a blue sky and next to a beautiful beach. Where would you rather live?

Robbins quickly falls afoul of one of the local gang — the Outsiders — and steals their leader’s rocket launcher. Now here’s where I break for a gripe that I’ve had ever since I first saw this movie, which is that I’ve always felt there was some false advertising going on here. On the poster and box art, you always saw the same thing — Ray Liotta with this weird little rocket launcher pointed right at you — and the implied promise of the marketing is that this is a movie chock-full of guns and shooting and high-tech action.

It’s not. It’s really not. The rocket launcher gets used once, just once, toward the end of the movie, and everything else here is spears and blowdarts and such. So that always got me a little grumpy, because I don’t like being led into a movie thinking it’s one thing when it really is kind of a microcosm of a post-apocalyptic world. You’ve got the savages (Outsiders) and the more civilized folk (Insiders), who are led by Lance Henricksen. I’ll never say no to a ’90s movie with Lance in it. Also Ernie Hudson pops up to make me shout, “Hey! Ernie! What’s up!”

Robbins stays pretty focused on trying to get escape, even after falling into the lap of civilization, so that’s where we get the mission. But for a good while, it’s pleasant times at the Insider’s Robinson Crusoe camp, where everyone is, for the most part, affable in a ’90s movie kind of way. They’re so nice, in fact, that it makes Robbins come off as a constant downer. He’s never smiling and always growling out, “I don’t follow commands any more!” like he’s got the biggest chip on his shoulder. With a world out there that hates him, there’s no clear reason for him to want to get back to it. So I guess I don’t get why we should care so much that he escapes, other than to snub the movie’s title.

No Escape reminds me a lot of Waterworld with its elaborate jury-rigged towns and grumpy lead keeping us from having as much of a good time as we were hoping to have. It’s a movie that offers as much rewatchability as its star, Mr. Rocket Launcher. One viewing, and that’s pretty much all you’ll need or want from it until the credits roll forever.

Didja notice?

  • It’s the future when your prison bars come up out of the floor!
  • It’s the rat welcoming party
  • Hey, where do you make swords on an island?
  • The way Robbins quickly kills his opponent is cheer-worthy
  • Pink eye can kill you apparently
  • I would wear underwear fished up from the sea, wouldn’t you?
  • Decapitation is… funny?
  • The Christmas party actually looks fun
  • Hollywood does love its flaming arrows
  • I don’t think there’s a single female in this movie
  • In 2022, we still use giant chunky CRT monitors
  • “I’ve eliminated the heads of state.”
  • Two necks, one arrow

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