No Escape

Year: 1994

Production: Platinum

Director: Martin Campbell

Starring: Ray Liotta, Stuart Wilson, Kevin Dillon, Lance Henriksen, Michael Lerner, Kevin J. O'Connor, Don Henderson

Screenwriter: Michael Gaylin, Joel Gross

Based on The Penal Colony by Richard Herley

115 minutes; Color


Filmed at Australia as Penal Colony, this continues a mini-genre of shot-down-under futuristic prison movies: Turkey Shoot (1982), Ghosts ... of the Civil Dead (1988), Fortress (1992). With Lord of the Flies tribal culture and Mad Max post-apocalypse gear, it owes an great debt to early visions of alternatives to prison, Peter Watkins' Punishment Park (1971) and (especially) Stephanie Rothman's Terminal Island (1973). To No Escape's discredit, it ignores Rothman's ideas about redemptive communal society and the inefficiency of savage violence as an agent of control and opts instead for the easy way out of non-stop action.

In AD2022, soldier Liotta is unjustly convicted of war crimes and sentenced to Absalom, an island where dangerous prisoners are left to their own devices. He survives an encounter with Wilson, insane leader of a barbarian faction, and enters an Iron John self-help group-cum-Swiss Family Robinson stockade ruled by the visionary Henriksen. Aspiring to an action-hero laurel, Liotta is lumbered with a clumsy backstory signalled by flaming visions and acts throughout as a dispenser of cool carnage without ever deciding if his primary duty is to escape and clear his name or to succeed Henriksen as savior of the redeemable cons.

The first reel offers glimpses of huge sets and futuristic helicopters, but when it gets to Absalom, the film becomes a conventional jungle adventure. There is a hint of depth in Henriksen's character, a saint everyone believes to be innocent but who sadly admits he is indeed a wife-murderer, and in his insistence on the redemptive powers of self-sufficiency, but all the other characters are thick-ear stereotypes played by hammy British character actors and sentimentally macho Americans.

A homily about the possibility of establishing a genuine society with the framework of a prison (the crux of Terminal Island) is quickly ditched in favor of Boy's Own display of POW escape attempts and a ready abandonment of progress when there is the chance of a war-whooping but of a scrap.

The Overlook Film Encyclopedia - Science Fiction

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