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edge staff writer


No one wins with ‘Escape Room: Tournament of Champions’

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There’s something almost sad about watching a film’s ending set the table for a sequel that – if what you’ve just watched is any indication – almost certainly won’t wind up happening. You’ve sat through the 100ish minutes and are left to sympathize with the sure-to-be-dashed sequel dreams of the filmmakers before ultimately walking away and promptly forgetting about it.

However, “almost certainly” is not “certainly.” Know how I know? Because “Escape Room: Tournament of Champions” exists.

This sequel was transparently set up by the ending of 2019’s “Escape Room” (to the ultimate detriment of that film, to be honest); while the first installment didn’t really earn this continuation via quality, it was relatively successful at the box office – and money talks.

Director Adam Robitel is back for round two, as are a couple of the first film’s stars. But really, they could have simply brought everybody back and taken another go, because it’s largely more of the same.

An unnecessary sequel – fine. I get the desire to return to that well. However, if you’re going to make a sequel to a movie that itself was underwhelming, perhaps the right move is to make that sequel … better? Or at least different? Instead, this is basically a rehash; they’ve turned the dial up a little, but otherwise, it’s more of the same.

Zoey (Taylor Russell, “Words on a Bathroom Wall”) is still struggling to deal with the psychological aftermath of her experience at the hands of the Minos Corporation, the shadowy conglomerate that creates death-trap sole-survivor escape rooms for the amusement of the rich. Those struggles are compounded by the fact that no one believes her except fellow survivor Ben (Logan Miller, “S—thouse”).

Zoey believes she’s uncovered a clue to the location of Minos HQ and wants Ben to come with her. Reluctantly, he agrees. The two make their way to New York City, to the spot Zoey believes is indicated by the clues she’s put together. However, the building is abandoned. An encounter with a street thug leads the two of them to give chase, only to lose the culprit in a subway station. Dejected, they sit on the train and debate simply abandoning their quest.

And then the game starts again.

It turns out that the other people in their train car are ALSO survivors, having overcome their own deadly experiences with Minos. It seems that in an effort to raise the stakes, Minos has decided to crown a winner of winners. A tournament of champions.

And so Zoey and Ben – along with Rachel (Holland Roden, TV’s “Mayans M.C.”), Nathan (Thomas Cocquerel, “The Divorce Party”), Brianna (Indya Moore, TV’s “Pose”) and Theo (Carlito Olivero, “DOMINO: Battle of the Bones”) – are thrust back into the demented and devious world of Minos, with deadly traps at every turn. Their only hope to stay alive is to solve the myriad puzzles and codes in each space before they meet a gruesome fate – all for the gambling pleasure of unseen billionaires.

So yeah – pretty much the same movie again.

It’s not that we should begrudge the people behind “ER:ToC” for making this movie – the film industry is, above all else, a business. Are there a lot of shameless and/or cynical decisions that go into mainstream filmmaking? Absolutely. It’s part of the deal.

However, we absolutely SHOULD begrudge them the seeming lack of effort in doing anything to make this movie worthwhile in its own right. Leaving aside whether the original film needed a sequel (spoiler alert – it did not), the absence of any real change other than a slight increase in scale results in a film that is largely lacking in whatever thrills that first film managed to wring from its premise.

Part of me wants to say that these movies basically boil down to “It’s ‘The Breakfast Club,’ only if they can’t get out of the library, they’ll die,” but frankly, that movie sounds WAY better than anything the “Escape Room” franchise has to offer.

Oh, and on top of all of it, the movie simply doesn’t make any sense. None of it. The decisions the characters make. The logistics of the situations. The motivations behind any of the actions taken. All of it thrown together in a slurry of nonsense that exists solely to get us from one overwrought set piece to the next. Yes, it’s a movie – suspension of disbelief enters into the equation – but even within its own universe, “ER:ToC” can’t figure out its own rules.

If you want to argue that there are some thrills to be derived from the various room scenarios in which we find these characters, fine. A couple of those moments certainly look impressive in their way. But when the narrative basically requires every one of these people to flip from intelligence to idiocy depending on what the plot requires, you’ve lost me. And I’m betting I’m not the only one.

(Plus there’s the third-act reveal that kind of undermines the whole premise. I won’t spoil it on principle, but honestly, if I thought telling you might keep you away, I’d consider it.)

The performances are fairly bland. No one is great, no one is terrible – for the most part, the actors are just fodder for whatever Rube Goldbergian death-dealing is next on the checklist. That’s not a condemnation, by the way; these people are doing their best. It’s just that their best can’t do much to improve a film designed to minimize their impact.

Ultimately, when it comes to “Escape Room: Tournament of Champions,” no one wins. Least of all, the audience.

[1.5 out of 5]

Last modified on Monday, 19 July 2021 09:40


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