Scottish director Gillies MacKinnon, whose uneven credits have included “Small Faces,” “Regeneration” and “Hideous Kinky,” delivers a standard-issue revenge thriller about an ordinary man pushed over the edge with ‘The Escapist.” Like lead Jonny Lee Miller, the film initially is pallid and unconvincing during the laborious setup but gradually gathers steam as the action gears shift into place and the pace accelerates. Home entertainment options look more viable than theatrical for this competently directed but lackluster vehicle.
The world of successful commercial pilot Denis (Miller) is pulled out from under him when vicious escaped sociopath Ricky Barnes (Andy Serkis) breaks into his house and kills his pregnant wife (Paloma Baeza), taking sadistic pleasure in letting him live to suffer the loss. Doctors manage to save the baby, but Denis is unable to look at it or hold it. Entrusting the child to the care of sister-in-law Christine (Jodhi May), Denis fakes his own suicide, destroys his identification and turns criminal overnight, smashing up a cop car to get into prison.
Obsessively replaying Barnes’ words on the night of the shooting in his mind, Denis makes a career of attempting escape from each prison he is put in and is bumped up to progressively tougher facilities. Final stop of course is the highest-security lockup in Britain, an island fortress where Barnes is being held but wields considerable power among both inmates and guards. Denis bides his time before seeking revenge. But his pilot skills are part of Barnes’ own escape plan. An accomplice of Barnes’ on the outside pays a visit to Christine and the baby as security against anything going wrong.
After an unexceptional start — a weakness aggravated by awkward use of voiceovers from Denis’ grief-therapy group — tension is steadily cranked up as the inevitable face-off draws nearer, aided by Rob Lane’s moody score. Serkis makes a suitably nasty villain, bringing a little edge that’s lacking in Miller’s and May’s serviceable but uncharismatic work in the other key roles.