If writer-director Ruba Nadda had a dollar for every time Taken was mentioned in the pitch meetings for Inescapable, she could have financed the film herself—or better yet, spent the money on something more worthwhile. The story of a former Syrian intelligence agent (Alexander Siddig) whose daughter goes missing in his former homeland plays like a cinematic answer record, rebutting some of Taken’s macho paranoia while reveling in its brawny brainlessness. It’s a deeply confused movie, sometimes productively so.
Siddig, who left Syria with a death sentence on his head, hid his past from his Canadian family; in the opening scene, he picks a reluctant lock for an office co-worker, explaining his facility with a crack about his “misspent youth.” But his studied vagueness piques the interest of his photojournalist daughter, who tacks an unscheduled jaunt to Damascus onto the end of an assignment and then vanishes from her hotel room.
With few contacts to tap, Siddig is forced to return to the country he fled and the people he left behind, including his former fiancée (Marisa Tomei) and a colleague (Oded Fehr) in what the film describes as one of the country’s 15 competing sets of secret police. Throw in a Canadian diplomat (Joshua Jackson), and the overlapping agendas become impossible to untangle, which is partly by design. Although Siddig barks plenty of steely one-word sentences and administers a few half-convincing karate chops, Inescapable is less concerned with giving his character a chance to up his testosterone levels than with digging up the kind of business that can never be finished in a country where authority fluctuates hourly. At one point, Siddig is asked to identify a woman’s charred remains as his daughter, and he hesitates for what seems an eternity, either unsure or unwilling to be so certain.
On paper, Inescapable’s cast looks like a hodgepodge, but Tomei’s half-Lebanese heritage comes to the fore with her skin darkened (no vouching for her Arabic), and Jackson carries the weight of a man who knows his own little corner of a foreign land well enough not to step outside it. When Siddig looks slightly foolish wielding a pistol or bathed in blood, it has less to do with his performance than with the movie as a whole, which never musters the lowbrow convictions of the genre it halfheartedly emulates.