It’s one thing to be an action or horror movie that slides silently into theaters on Oscar weekend in the hopes of appealing to a demographic that has little interest in whether “Life of Pi” will take home more trophies than “Amour.” But if you’re an art-house film getting a relatively quiet release on that same weekend, things look a little more hopeless.
Not that “Inescapable” is entirely boutique cinema -- despite its multi-national pedigree and the presence of an Academy Award–winning actress, the film tries to meld politically charged personal drama with the action-movie tropes you’d expect in a story set in the Middle East. (Chase through a crowded marketplace? Brawl at the hamam? Check!)
Writer-director Ruba Nadda (“Cairo Time”) never fully commits to either, unfortunately; the characters are sketchy types, while the shoot-em-up sequences fails to elevate the heart rate. The results feel like a blandly perfunctory “Taken” rip-off made for Canadian television.
Adib (Alexander Siddig, “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine”) lives comfortably in Toronto with his wife and two daughters. He never speaks much of his earlier life, so when his oldest child, a photojournalist, travels through Europe, she can’t resist stopping in Damascus to find out more about the past her father has fled.
Those secrets remain dangerous decades later; his daughter disappears, and Adib must return to his native Syria for the first time in decades to find her. Thankfully, this trip brings him in contact with the film’s only interesting character -- Fatima, the woman who was set to marry Adib before he fled the country.
While not necessarily better-written than anyone else in the film, Fatima is powerfully brought to life by Marisa Tomei, who finds a vast array of notes to play in a woman who could have been merely a walking embodiment of abandonment-fueled rage. As played by Tomei, however, we read a full life history in her eyes, and “Inescapable” flags noticeably whenever she’s not on screen.
Nadda’s strategy is to let us learn little by little just what happened to Adib all those years ago and why he had to escape Syria, but the character is so unengaging that by the time all has been revealed, it’s too late to care. The sketchy writing would be forgivable if the action aspects were more potent, but there’s just no intensity to be found here. We get plenty of pursuit, but the adjective “hot” couldn’t be applied to any of it.
All that’s left is a cast of skillful actors (Joshua Jackson turns up as a Canadian diplomat who’s more involved with things than he originally appears) valiantly trying to elevate a fairly generic script into something meaningful. Had there been a few more moments where Tomei was unleashed upon the proceedings, “Inescapable” might feel like less of a waste of time for viewers and creators alike.