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'Inescapable': A riff on 'Taken'
James Rocchi, Special to MSN Movies

A lower-budget, higher-fiber riff on Liam Neeson's "Taken," combining both gun-in-the-hand peril and earnestness-in-the-heart family drama, "Inescapable" is a prime example of why there are so many bad thrillers, in that providing thrills on-screen in a consistent, intelligent, satisfying way is in fact much tougher than it looks. Writer-director Ruba Nadda has all the elements here, but the film's plotting (and budget) means that it doesn't have a lot of adrenaline until the finale, and it's hard to imagine audiences being willing to stick with its plodding movements until then.

"Inescapable" starts with the ordinary life of Torontonian Adib Abdel Kareem (Alexander Siddig of "Syriana" and "Deep Space Nine"), but as he helps a co-worker with a locked desk drawer by picking it with a unbent paper clip ("a misspent youth," he notes with a smile), we get the idea that he has, in Liam Neeson's growling words, "a highly specialized set of skills." He's then told that his photographer daughter, Muna (Jay Anstey), whom he thought was in Greece, is actually in Damascus, in Kareem's homeland of Syria -- and that she's disappeared. Kareem is terrified, and with good reason. Decades ago, he was in Syrian Military Intelligence, and he left everything behind -- a fiancée, his family, his life -- to emigrate to Canada and, yes, survive. Again, just as in "Taken," Kareem gave his family instructions to never, ever, go to Syria -- and his daughter, of course, ignores his very specific and reasonable travel advice. So Kareem is on the next plane, appealing to his ex-fiancée, Fatima (Marisa Tomei, with too much eye shadow and weirdly aspirated "h"-sounds), to help him cross the border to find his daughter.

With cinematography by Luc Montpellier -- who shot "Take This Waltz" and "Away From Her," as well as Nadda's previous "Cairo Time" -- "Inescapable" is attractively shot, with South Africa doubling for Syria, even if the production design itself looks a little shabby. Siddig is a likable lead, even if he doesn't get to bring the noise and/or throat-punching until late in the game, and Joshua Jackson and Oded Fehr also help bolster the film as, respectively, a Canadian consular official and Kareem's old associate in Syrian Military Intelligence, both with deeper links to the circumstance.

It seems unfair to criticize "Inescapable" for taking more time talking than fighting -- but, then again, it's selling itself with a poster of Siddig's character holding a gun, not holding a conversation. It's also hard to feel much sympathy for Kareem having his life in Canada torn away from him by events when we never really get to see it beyond a few glimpses. Many of the usual thriller missteps are here in Nadda's direction and script as well: but-why-would-they-do-that actions, offscreen scenes revealing incredibly pertinent information, clunky exposition. (At one point, Fatima says to Kareem, "Nothing has changed here; there are 15 different Secret Police Agencies. ... You know this." Well, if she knows he knows, why tell him?)

But at the same time, "Inescapable" attempts to accomplish a few things most thrillers don't: making its bad guys into characters, treating its good guys as fallible and capable of mistakes, turning a nation that could have been window dressing into a real and vital place with human beings, not just extras, living there. It's easy enough to see "Inescapable" as a cheaper, more earnest, less punch-driven -- or, briefly, Canadian -- version of "Taken"; it's just too bad that Nadda's film's action and thrills aren't taken far enough to make a real impression.

James Rocchi has written reviews and articles for print and online publications, including Total Film Magazine, the Toronto Star, IndieWire's The Playlist, Mother Jones, and He's covered film festivals including Sundance, Cannes, the Toronto International Film Festival, SXSW and Fantastic Fest. He's been an on-air reviewer for CBS-5 San Francisco and a reviewer and commentator for CNN, G4, TechTV and more. He lives in Los Angeles, which is both exactly and not at all like the movies suggest it is.

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