Star Ray Liotta was the big draw for me at the time. I was definitely interested in seeing how the decorated actor would fare in something that promised to be a bit more Science Fiction than anything I’d seen him in before. While the previews certainly smacked of a fair amount of testosterone as well, I recall thinking this one was likely going to play out as more akin to William Golding’s novel “Lord Of The Flies” than anything else, and even some of the reviews I read back in that day mirrored those sentiments. Good films often benefit from great associations, and perhaps that alone helped the flick achieve whatever positive marks it did.
As I said, I never caught it on the silver screen, but now I’ve been able to finally rectify that situation as I was offered to stream it in exchange for a review by a current distributor. This release coming not all that far on the heels of the sad death of actor Ray Liotta definitely brought this one back in the spotlight for me, and I’m glad to have finally caught it in its entirety. While it’s probably not a picture highly regarded by aficionados of Liotta’s catalogue, I’d argue that in no way, shape, or form did the talented player coast on his laurels here: under his stewardship of the role, this disgraced former soldier might even be in the best possible hands available at the time of his playing it. He’s equal parts ‘action hero,’ ‘social outcast,’ and ‘broken man’ hell bent on trying to put things right (at least, how he sees them being corrected), and I think he gave it his full, undivided attention.
Furthermore, No Escape is backed by an incredible cast, actors who have done great work then and even now, some who have gone on to even bigger pursuits. Chocked full of familiar faces and an occasionally breakneck pace of action, the film is a heady dose of adrenaline that also tries to incorporate the somewhat typical Hollywood bailiwick of exposing institutionalized corruption.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters. If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last few paragraphs for the final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
“A soldier convicted for murdering his commanding officer is dumped and left to die on a prison island inhabited by two camps of convicts.”
In fairness to the Michael Gaylin and Joel Gross screenplay (adapted from Richard Herley’s novel, “The Penal Colony”), there is a bit more to No Escape’s plot, but – like the film – let’s just say this synopsis works efficiently as provided just enough of the premise. These characters are given “just enough” background for audiences to accept them as is. The prison society is also awarded “just enough” of an explanation for us to see it working. While I may’ve desired just a bit more depth in key places, the project still hits “just enough” of the right notes to make it a functioning, serviceable SciFi-lite thriller; any closer examination, and it might all fall apart, which would be a tremendous shame.
As it is, No Escape feels and works with B-Movie efficiency, though it brought aboard an impressive roster of A-Team talent. Ray Liotta – no stranger to critical acclaim at this point in his career – stars as disgraced and incarcerated Captain J.T. Robbins, a military officer with a dark secret haunting his otherwise impressive record and one that finds him cast out of civil society into the penal system. Genre regular Lance Henriksen plays the good-hearted ‘Father’ to the growing union of men convicted of crimes and yet trying to properly ‘start over’ behind bars on a prison island. Ghostbusters’ regular Ernie Hudson brings the character of Hawkins to life on the screen – a somewhat sergeant-at-arms to Henriksen’s Father. And the production was rounded out with some professional luminaries as Stuart Wilson, Kevin Dillon, Ian McNeice, and the recognizable Michael Lerner in key roles for good and for bad.
At its core, No Escape tries to perhaps be about a small handful of related subjects – justice, incarceration, freedom, and redemption – all of which revolve around a fundamental ‘good vs. evil’ construct within this depicted prison system. As tends to happen with this style of thriller, the structure is just as corrupt as any of its inmates – a favorite position of Hollywood screenwriters, indeed – so it’s only natural that bad men embrace their inner grace, rise up, throw off their shackles, and expose basically all of civilization as the vile institution it is. Sigh. Only in the movies do two wrongs almost always make a right. While it doesn’t end succinctly with the system being destroyed, it arguably suggests the warden and his minions are well on their way to the unemployment line.
I’d be remiss in my duties if I failed to point out that even the Academy Of Science Fiction, Fantasy, And Horror Films thought similarly: in 1995, No Escape enjoyed a nomination in the category of ‘Best Science Fiction Film,’ an award that ultimately went to the glossier crowd-pleaser Stargate (which, in turn, launched one of Science Fiction’s biggest franchises). But on those merits alone, No Escape is definitely the kind of film that deserves a viewing for fans of genre properties if for no other reason than it boasts a helluva cast, some smart visuals, and some impressive though occasionally perfunctory action.
No Escape (1994) was produced by Columbia Pictures, Pacific Western, Platinum Pictures (III), and Allied Filmmakers. DVD distribution (for this particular release) is being coordinated by Unearthed Films (although, for clarity’s sake, I viewed this release via streaming). As for the technical specifications? Though I’m no trained video expert, I found the sights and sounds for this film to be fantastic from start-to-finish.
In director Campbell’s hands, No Escape certainly delivered an action-packed and thoughtful flick – maybe too thoughtful, at times – giving some talented greats like Ray Liotta, Lance Henriksen, and Ernie Hudson a cult feature on the fringes of Science Fiction. While it may not have all the right moves to have secured box office gold, it certainly hits enough marks to be re-examined as of late (with Liotta’s passing) and maybe given the dose of respect both its characters wanted and methinks it deserves.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Unearthed Films provided me with complimentary streaming access to No Escape (1994) by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review; and their contribution to me in no way, shape, or form influenced my opinion of it.