NO ESCAPE (15, 103 mins) Action/Thriller/Romance. Owen Wilson, Lake Bell, Pierce Brosnan, Sterling Jerins, Claire Geare. Director: John Erick Dowdle.

EAST meets west and, as usual, America emerges as the culturally and morally superior force in John Erick Dowdle's taut thriller set in Southeast Asia.

No Escape was shot on location in Thailand but director Dowdle and his younger brother Drew, who co-wrote the script, remain vague about the geography of this violent, protracted chase set during a bloodthirsty coup.

A climactic sequence set on a river, which supposedly meanders across the Vietnamese border, would logically infer Laos or Cambodia as the backdrop to the wanton carnage.

Neither nation would want to be connected to the rampant xenophobia on display here so the Dowdles dodge specifics, including the political motivations of their stereotypical characters, and focus instead on propulsive action sequences.

The opening 30 minutes are particularly nerve-racking, cranking up the suspense as a beleaguered American family plays a deadly game of cat and mouse with a machete-wielding rabble in a besieged hotel.

All of that sweat-drenched tension evaporates when flimsy threads of realism are slashed in hysterical fashion to engineer a series of hilariously improbable events that defy logic and the laws of physics.

Texan businessman Jack Dwyer (Owen Wilson) uproots his wife Annie (Lake Bell) and daughters Lucy (Sterling Jerins) and Beeze (Claire Geare) to take up a job in far-flung climes.

The welcome from some locals is lukewarm, so while Annie and the girls settle into the hotel suite, Jack seeks solace in the bar and attempts to justify his company's presence to fellow traveller Hammond (Pierce Brosnan) and other patrons.

The assassination of the country's president sparks an uprising and Jack witnesses firsthand the brutality of the mob.

He sprints back to the hotel and rounds up Annie and the children just as locals begin beheading foreigners in the street and storming the reception.

Staff stand by as international guests are slaughtered in their rooms.

"All we got to do is put 10 steps between us and them," Jack tells his terrified family, shepherding them at speed through the mounting devastation, bound for the US embassy.

The odds are stacked against the Dwyers and no one, it seems, can be trusted.

No Escape is punctuated by moments of jaw-dropping incredulity, including Brosnan's broad cock-er-nee accent.

Wilson and Bell are an appealing on-screen couple and they wring droplets of sympathy for their stricken parents especially when little Beeze shows scant concern for everyone's safety by constantly complaining that she is hungry, wants her teddy or needs the toilet when silence would be golden.

Dowdle orchestrates the fast-paced set pieces with a modicum of flair, stampeding any half-hearted attempts at cultural sensitivity under the feet of his nameless revolutionaries, who intend to repel western capitalism with barbarism and brute force.

Rating: 5/10