Review: Lean 'Escape Room: Tournament of Champions' offers more of the same tricks
Courtesy of Sony
Produced on a $5 million budget and amassing global grosses near $100 million, the sleeper success of “Escape Room,” a PG13 riff on the “Saw” franchise that was moderately enjoyable though hardly stuck around long enough to make an impact, all but guaranteed “Escape Room: Tournament of Champions” was in the cards, especially with the eye rolling, foundational cliffhanger director Adam Robitel laid down. “Tournament of Champions,” much like “Escape Room,” defies the laws of physics, gravity, and logic in its creation of deadly traps. Getting lost in the rubix cube style mystery and seeing nameless characters (save for the two leads) solve elaborate puzzles’ make this sequel a leaner, more efficient version of its predecessor, but enjoyment will vary based on how far you’re willing to traverse down the rabbit hole.
Robietel, returning to the director’s chair, packs plenty of stunts and thrilling sequences over the course of 88 minutes, leaving minimal time for the viewer to piece together each scene. Ironically, that’s “Tournament of Champions” biggest strength: omitting distractions and keeping the tempo moving when it can’t explain how certain scenarios wind up happening. What minimal setup there is includes returning cast members Zoey (Taylor Russell) and Ben (Logan Miller) tracking down the shady, New York City based, org responsible for their previous torment, Minos, an outlet where wealthy people bet on players in a series of death-infused traps.
Such is the initial premise for “Tournament of Champions” before Zoey and Ben are sucked into an “All Star” round with previous “winners:” Brianna (Indya Moore), Rachel (Holland Roden), Nate (Thomas Cocquerel) and Theo (Carlito Olivero) - all with their own talents and abilities (one, for example, can’t feel pain). But the script’s thinness and overall lack of execution is hard to overcome. I suppose looking past the script’s cheesy dialogue (a cringeworthy use of the film’s title, anyone?) one could say Robietel stages a few manic sequences with the deft and flair of a “Final Destination” movie, but most of the rooms, from a subway train covered in electricity to one that unleashes acid rain, never reach their full potential. Props for keeping the runtime tight, but the hilarious “eureka” moments where the characters solve a riddle with mere seconds on the clock are cheap and hilarious.
At least the entire cast is solid, especially Ruddel and Miller who’s budding chemistry actually makes you root for them (and although brief, the film explores the psychological trauma both struggled with from the first one, including an absolute stunner of a dream sequence where the walls cave in). “Tournament of Champions” has one of those fake endings where the rug is pulled out from under itself, assuming audiences will come around for a potential third outing, and it brought to mind countless other franchises that never knew when to hang up the cape. Watching people bicker and argue can only stretch so far when you’re not the one playing the game, and though the action keeps flowing, it’d be nice to watch one of these movies and not feel like you’re getting played.
ESCAPE ROOM: TOURNAMENT OF CHAMPIONS is now playing only in theaters.