The volatile political situation in Syria is the backdrop for the tepid new thriller "Inescapable." The ideas behind this movie are solid, this has the potential to make a riveting film experience. In fact, I really liked the story. But writer/director Ruba Nadda, who also made the lovely and understated "Cairo Time," really doesn't push far enough. Does she want to explore the current state of affairs in Syria? Does she want to create a tense action flick along the lines of "Taken?" Does she want to formulate an intensely emotional experience reflecting on the ideas of family and identity? Any of these approaches probably would have worked, but Nadda gives us glimpses of each without really developing much depth into any of the individual themes. Instead, we're left with a routine genre picture that lacks much impact. At the core of the film, there is an intensely emotional and harrowing situation. A man's daughter is missing and only he can save her. But as she's not a real character, only a plot device, nothing is really at stake for the viewer. The movie's screenplay never digs deep enough into the situation as to elicit actual viewer investment. It's a noticeable error. For though I didn't necessarily hate "Inescapable," I won't remember it at all in a few weeks.
The movie does boast a strong and appealing central performance. I'm a fan of Alexander Siddig, Nadda also cast him as the lead in "Cairo Time." Siddig has an easy command and gravitas that suits the role well. He plays an ex-officer of the Syrian Military Police. Twenty-five years prior, he disappeared from Damascus to begin a new life abroad. Now a family man with secrets firmly squirreled away, he is forced to confront the unpleasant realities of days gone by. His daughter, a photographer, is reported missing in Syria and Siddig returns to the land and the people he left behind. Among those he encounters are his former best friend (and current officer) Oded Fehr and a complicated romantic entanglement played by Marisa Tomei. With their help, and that of embassy diplomat Joshua Jackson, he must unravel what happened and who holds his daughter before it's too late. The plot, as it is revealed, is particularly slight. But we do get to see Siddig return to his old ways.
Here's the disconnect I had. The movie doesn't tell us anything about Siddig's current life AND it only gives us fleeting information about his old one. At only 93 minutes, the screenplay would have benefited from a great deal more exposition and character development. It needed to make us care! I liked the scenes between Fehr and Siddig and even those between Tomei and Siddig. They give you a glimpse of what a better and more involving movie might have been made. Overall, though, the plotting was relatively uninspired. Jackson is more involved than you might first suspect, but this effort to beef up his role never rings true. At least with a picture of this type, you know that you're in store for a big dramatic finale. No spoilers here, but you might suspect that either he'll find his daughter dead or alive. Doesn't matter, though, it would still be powerful stuff. Right? Not really. The movie simply ends within a few seconds of the final reveal. Blah. About 2 1/2 stars, I'll round up for Siddig. KGHarris, 6/13.