LOS ANGELES — “Inescapable” is like “Taken” without the tension.
Another daughter has gone missing, this time in Damascus, Syria. Her father, Adib Abdel Kareem (Alexander Siddig), is a former spy. About the only difference between “Inescapable” and the popular Liam Neeson action thriller, is that the kidnapping is driven by retribution rather than chance — well, that and a long string of dramatic, and fatal, flaws.
It’s a disappointing third film for Canadian writer-director Ruba Nadda, who showed such surety in the sultry romantic heat of “Cairo Time.” One hopes “Inescapable” is only a momentary stumble for this promising filmmaker.
Even its star, the wonderful Siddig, who was the seductive stranger escorting Patricia Clarkson through “Cairo,” seems uncharacteristically unsettled — at times overwrought, as you might expect a father in his situation to be, at times unexplainably lethargic. As he searches the streets, markets and dark corridors of Damascus, the actor, more than the character, seems a man out of time.
The film begins in Toronto where Kareem and his family now live. He appears to be an executive, we’re told something more specific later but it’s a throwaway line like too much else in the script. The younger daughter is around college age; the one that’s gone missing is Emily (Bonnie Lee Bouman), a photographer who has been shooting her way across Europe until she detours to Damascus to look into dad’s secretive past. All of this we find out after the fact — Emily is seen for little more than a few seconds on Skype.
A slightly agitated man turns up at Kareem’s office bearing bad tidings. From their brief exchange it seems dad had him shadowing Emily but apparently didn’t make it clear that if something happened, he should be told right away. By the time Kareem hears of the kidnapping, it’s been six days.
Some mystery is fine. A morass is quite another matter. Without telling his wife their child is missing, or anything really, Kareem heads for Syria and back into the world of spy-craft, reaching out to his former compatriots. It’s been 20 years or so. They are angry.
First up is Fatima (Marisa Tomei). She was apparently Kareem’s onetime love as well as another operative. This very versatile actress is given little to do beyond become a reluctant sidekick, driving him around the city and occasionally turning her heavily kohled eyes in his direction and breaking her silence long enough to spit out a few recriminations about leaving her behind.
Next is the nearly monosyllabic Saad (Oded Fehr), all of the charisma of his savvy, sexy spy on USA’s “Covert Affairs” has been leeched away. He’s with the Syrian intelligence agency, has a chest-full of medals and no personality.
Finally, the sort-of-desperate father drops by the Canadian consulate where he meets with one of the higher-ups, but not so high up as to be old. Paul (Joshua Jackson) seems to know more about Emily’s whereabouts than he’s letting on.
There are a few clandestine meetings, mostly unexplained; a few run-ins with tough guys in suits — maybe other spies? They have questions. No one has answers. Meanwhile bits and pieces of Kareem’s spy days get tossed out like crumbs for pigeons, but serve only to frustrate rather than satiate.
“Inescapable” is almost unfathomable, with so little interior logic that you’re often left, like Fatima, screaming through gritted teeth, “But why?”