A female photographer teams up with a policeman to try to bring down a corrupt police officer who framed her for drug possession and during her investigation, finds that not everything, or everyone, is what they appear to be.
Charles T. Kanganis
"That's how I know you ain't a cop - you too [...] crazy"
NO ESCAPE, NO RETURN is a fairly unique entry into the subgenre of police-themed action-thrillers, and it is worth checking out despite my average rating. This well-written adventure is engaged in a fight with producers trying to shoehorn it into the form of a throwaway adrenaline piece. Concessions appear to have been made that result in some sloppily-presented scenes and heavy-handed drama, but you're still looking at an interesting and engaging alternative to the usual PM cop fare.
The story: Three police officers – played by Dustin Nguyen, Denise Loveday, and Maxwell Caulfield – are targeted for internal sabotage after interfering in the plans of a drug baron.
The movie's strengths begin with its three leads, who do collectively well with their roles. The film gives Maxwell Caulfield top billing, but this is in fact one of the few times wherein all three of a movie's leads play equally prominent characters. Too much of their background and motivations are revealed via exposition and the strongest of their dramatic scenes are mucked about with attention-pleading editing, but the performers seem to genuinely feel their roles and have a natural chemistry that make their relationships believable. Additionally, the extended storyline is equal to these characters for its unconventionality. The plot against the characters begins as an assassination attempt but morphs into a cerebral attack, leading to the stars making some genuinely surprising decisions throughout the film.
The action is a solid mix of shooting, fighting, and explosions. It's not the best stuff ever, but a little more of it would have bolstered my rating. Some of the gunfights are nice, and the PM studio lives up to its reputation by including a couple of cool car crashes, but the clear star of the action scene is Dustin Nguyen. Nguyen is choosy when it comes to his action roles, supposedly having turned down films for years to avoid being typecast as a karate man, and a feature like this makes you value the parts wherein he does demonstrate his aptitude for the martial arts. He leads four of the five fights, and while I would have given a lot to see him take on some credible opponents, it's a thrill to see him cut loose, particularly in the three-on-one brawl.
Problems with the jumpy pacing occasionally give the feature an oddly experimental vibe, and its passive justification of police brutality rings particularly foul nowadays. Nevertheless, for all its faults, the movie is entertaining in more than a mindless way. It would be great if writer-director Charles Kanganis' screenplay had instead been filmed by someone like Dwight Little, but even in its current state, I recommend this one for viewing by action fans.
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