Written and directed by Ruba Nadda
Alexander Siddig is an actor who comes across as a man of secrets. Portrayed to most American viewers as an otherworldly, but dignified character on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and a shady sheik in Syriana, he nonetheless cuts an imposing, familiar figure in western wear in more contemporary domestic settings. So it goes for the intro to Inescapable, which plays opening credits over the sight of him adjusting his suit, fixing cufflinks and generally looking like the smoothest man in this or any room. It's an early reminder that, in the hearts of some more progressive Geeks, he is an ideal James Bond.
Siddig here plays Adib, a former agent of the Syrian Military Intelligence now doing business in Canada. His past is shrouded in secrecy, a cascade of red tape and misleading newspaper articles that suggest his status as a spy. What becomes clear in these early moments of exposition, doled out bit by bit as the film continues, is that Adib was a man of action. There are various political consequences to Adib being considered a spy for Israel in the past, but for this movie's sake he's essentially Liam Neeson.
And like Liam Neeson, tragedy strikes close to home. His daughter Mona disappears in Damascus, a trip she has made while keeping others in the dark. Unlike Maggie Grace in the Taken films, forced into a role of little dignity, Mona is on the search for the truth about her father. Presumably hers was a childhood spent bouncing against "classified" information in an attempt to know her father closely. Of course, as the credo goes for these types of films, keeping your loved ones in the dark equals keeping them safe and knowledge most certainly is not power.
Adib pulls some strings to get back into Damascus without a passport, reuniting with ex-wife Fatima (a shakily-accented Marisa Tomei). Apparently what they once had has been lost, but why burn the love so bright when there are connections to be had? It seems backwards to congratulate a film for NOT falling into familiar traps, but in a weaker film, Adib would try to reignite the flame with Fatima. While she still nurses emotional scars, his only desire is to find his daughter. Of course, neither Fatima's sadness nor Mona's quest for the truth is nearly as important as What The Man Wants in this situation.
Eventually, this leads him to play detective, but the bursts of action feel incongruous. Was Inescapable meant to be a mystery about a politically-conflicted man or an action picture about a one-man army seeking the truth with his fists? The interminably long meetings Adib has with officials go nowhere, but make up the bulk of the screentime. When someone seems like he's stepped out of a bathtub of lies, Adib can smell it and suddenly he's displaying the one-punch concussion skills that miraculously get answers. Never mind that Siddig, an exceptionally handsome man with a definite presence, seems far too skinny and wiry to make a difference in hand-to-hand combat. This is a lanky dude with no real upper body strength and we’re to believe he’ll tango with government soldiers and at some points send them to their knees with only one blow? The action is NEVER shot convincingly enough to suggest Siddig is a guy who can hold his own in battle.
Eventually the conspiracy takes him to the doorstep of embassy employee Paul, who hides behind bureaucracy in his attempts to assuage Adib that the case is being handled. Paul ends up being a transparently obvious liar, which is revealed right off the bat and either he’s terrible at hiding the truth or Joshua Jackson is an extremely unaccomplished actor who can’t play “keeping a secret” as a motivation. Hard to say which reading is more accurate, but every moment Paul is onscreen the audience waits for the other shoe to drop. Jackson is one of many actors who smartly selected TV paychecks (Fringe) in lieu of a film career (he was reportedly one of the finalists for Batman Begins), but doing so has limited his chops. As fine a show as Fringe may be, most genre shows force their actors to become reactive in nature, trapping them in implausible settings each week that do nothing to strengthen their craft. Do that twenty times a year and you’ll see how much your natural skills fade. Or watch Joshua Jackson in Inescapable for reference.
There are enough red herrings within the story to suggest that this is a pretty rudimentary genre film given topical trappings (the events occur in early 2011). You wonder what role will be served by one-time Hollywood regular Oded Fehr, who here beefs up to play distrusting government official Sayid. Adib is at a loss as far as calling in favors from old friends, but he’s not afraid to dial up Sayid, which only complicates the plot further. Adib’s presence in Damascus is unwanted, but there is a fondness to Sayid’s remembrance of the “old days” that gets Adib through the door and out of prison. But it almost seems like the attempt was to stack up on conflict, with every other line revealing Sayid to be either friendly or hostile to his old friend; perhaps he’s conflicted, but the film is edited to make him seem schizophrenic.
This character-as-plot-device storytelling (not to mention the station-to-station storytelling) would be acceptable if there were aesthetic thrills provided by Inescapable. But it plays the other way around: the brief bursts of action (limited by budget and an inability to generate suspense) seem like last minute additions meant to beef up a banal procedural, reshoots happening a year after the fact. Apparently that wasn’t the case at all, making this film all the more confounding. It’s a disappointment, considering Siddig has real leading man chops: his piercing eyes and skeletal visage suggest he could have been one of the great silent actors, and he speaks with a confident alpha male tone properly conveying, in every scene, that he’s completely in charge. Instead of bureaucratic puppets, perhaps next time pair him up against a threat a little more formidable.
Den of Geek Rating: 2 out of 5 Stars