'No Escape' is a mad mix of too many future-fantasy movie styles

April 29, 1994|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Sun Film Critic

"No Escape" plays like "Mad Max" set on the planet of the Ewoks.

Looting imagery and themes from just about every known source of popular culture except Mickey Mouse cartoons (oh, I suppose you could argue the whole movie is Mickey Mouse), it features Ray Liotta as a Mel Gibson wannabe who helps a tribe of colorfully garbed losers escape from the ignominy of circumstances in a world where civilization has collapsed.

No, it's not set in Hollywood and yes, it's as mixed up as a bowl of alphabet soup in Cyrillic.

First, the science-fiction movie. The story takes place Sometime in the Future so that the penal system has gone corporate, which gives the film's crackerjack production crew an excuse to build a funny transportation machine. Hollywood loves funny transportation machines. This one is a high-speed monorail that fires through the desert at a thousand miles an hour and looks like a boxcar from Maserati. It finally arrives at a hi-tech prison inspired by the set for "American Gladiators."

Then it's the "Lord of the Flies" movie. Just as soon as we've settled in for some good prison violence, Liotta, a disgraced Army officer who shot his commanding officer because A) the officer had ordered Liotta to commit atrocities, and B) it made a great opening scene (which do you think is more important?), is dumped on an island ruled in tribal savagery by a gent with bones sewn into his nose calling himself Marek. Yet Marek turns out to be the movie's main treat, ironic and theatrical and buoyantly contemptuous of the tribe of mutant scavengers that does his bidding. He carries on like he thinks it's his career breakthrough, and it probably is: Kudos to the actor, Stuart Wilson.

But Liotta escapes him and goes to a village of sensitive Iron John types who sit around in robes like the lost boys of Peter Pan trying to figure out the meaning of it all. (Hint: boys, the meaning of it all is . . . money.) Here's where we get the Ewok movie. The guys live in the kind of whimsically cute village that has that richly phony movie-precious style, with everything weathered and aged to exactly the same degree. You keep expecting the pirate ship from "Hook" to pull in, with a tiny Julia Roberts buzzing around like a bottle fly!

The vividly demonic Lance Henriksen is wasted as "The Father," the Robert Bly figure in all this touchy-feely glop. But the battle scenes, as Marek's Outsiders attempt to destroy the Village of the New Age Men, have a sort of medieval grandeur to them.

Liotta does reasonably well as an action hero: Slimmed down, he's quite dynamic, naturally athletic and reasonably convincing his own stunt work. The role isn't deeply enough written to present any real complexity, but he does a good job with the scarred, embittered, loner warrior thing.

But now on to the big question: Any cool deaths or tortures? Answer: Yes, a guy gets knocked off a tower and skewered on a pointed stick and his guts smear across the water like raspberry marmalade squished out of a blintz. That was really cool. Plus, there's also some good fire arrow stuff -- a fire arrow in the mouth! -- that I've never seen done before. That was cool, too.

And a final question: Are the writers, the directors and the actors at all aware of the homoerotic subtext? You find such things typically in female-bereft pix, like prison movies (and in prison!) but not quite so emphasized as here, where Kevin Dillon has what amounts to a crush on Liotta, who returns the deep `D sentiment with those soulful, passionate eyes of his. Lots of boy to boy eye-sex. Like, guys, if you want to make a gay movie, make one! Enough with the subtexts, the suppressions, the hints, the whispery, tremory, fluttery evocation of possibility. It's the '90s. Go for it!

"No Escape"

Starring Ray Liotta and Lance Henriksen

Directed by Martin Campbell

Released by Savoy

R-rated

**

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