Escape Room

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The studios didn’t screen this movie for the critics, which usually means it’s going to be awful. The wife and I were having dinner near the Edwards Mira Mesa theatre and walked in to see if we could watch it for reviewing purposes. Usually theatres will let a critic in if they can prove they’re actually a movie critic. I showed the manager my card, and she talked to another manager, before coming back to tell me, “We only let critics that are Oscar voters see the movies for free.”

I’m not sure she realizes that there aren’t any movie critics that vote on the Oscars, but those are other actors, directors, etc. We vote on things like the Critics’ Choice awards (which you can watch on January 13th). Anyhow, it all worked out, because the Reading Town Square is one of my favorite theatres, and they know how to treat the critics in town. I was able to reserve the seats I wanted, and watch the movie with an eager crowd.

Screenwriters Maria Melnik and Bragi Schut came up with the concept of six strangers being given a mysterious black box that invites them to participate in an escape room. I could’ve sworn the commercials said it was for a million dollar prize, but in the movie it stated $10,000. That made me wonder why the rich financial trader would even bother. It also made me wonder, when they all start teaming up to find clues, why they’d want to help each other. I mean, if one person figures out the code from various things on the walls and coffee table, are they going to have to split the 10 grand with the ones that added nothing? Of course, none of that matters, because as you probably gathered from the trailers, the folks that set up this escape room want to watch people die trying to find a way out. It’s a little like Cabin in the Woods, with a bit of Hunger Games, Cube, The Game, Lost, and Saw.

As far as horror/thrillers go, the concept of this was fine. And truth be told, my wife and I were also entertained by the dialogue. There were some funny lines, and it kept us entertained a lot of the time. I just have this weird habit of analyzing things. With each elaborate room they’d escape out of and into another, I was wondering how much it would cost to actually put the whole thing together. In another scene, that was made to look like a juke joint (pool table, jukebox, booze), I wondered why they kept playing Petula Clark’s “Downtown” over and over, as if that’s some kind of torture. Hey…that’s a good song. And, if you’re going to use a song, why not Rupert Holmes’ “Escape” or Morrison singing “Five to one, baby/one in five/no one here gets out alive.” Something to fit the theme. But I digress.

The movie does get a tad more intriguing when halfway through, they start to realize they weren’t just randomly selected.

The contestants are…(and please read this in your best cheesy, game show announcer voice)….Zoey (Taylor Russell), a brilliant college student who is so shy, she can’t even talk to a professor that’s complimenting her work. He tells her to “think outside the box” and…that’s why she’s there.

A bearded truck driver (Tyler Labine), who has a voice that reminded me of Rob Riggle. He has a few good lines.

There’s a tough war vet (Deborah Ann Woll), who has PTSD, and some nasty scars on her back. It’s a safe bet that by the time the movie’s over, she’s going to have a lot more.

There’s the nerdy gamer (Nik Dodani), who looks like he spent some time with The Big Bang Theory cast. He knows a lot about game rooms, although offers little help once things are set in motion.

The only two actors I recognized were Jay Ellis (Insecure), who is the rich, obnoxious dude we all want to die the minute things start heating up.

There’s a scraggly smoker/drinker (Logan Miller), who was great as the blackmailer in Love, Simon…and his character arc in this is somewhat interesting.

My wife told me she liked that we weren’t seeing all the gore of these folks being killed. It was rated PG-13, and that rating should help this movie make a killing (no pun intended) at the box (no pun intended) office. And, the word of mouth won’t be horrible, despite the third act being utterly ridiculous.

The movie is nicely paced, and the set designs are interesting enough. The group also has some chemistry together.

Since the movie will appeal most to teenagers, who will enjoy it…I do think it should’ve been scarier. It also needed to be a little less predictable.

In the beginning of the movie, there’s a funny line about somebody explaining what The Karate Kid was about (“An old guy teaches a kid karate so he can beat up other kids”), and the opening scene has Logan Miller looking for a book and saying “the green book,” which reminded me…I need to take a few more friends to see Green Book before it leaves the theatres. It’s the best movie of the year, and…I see it’s still playing at the Reading Town Square. So escape your boring night at home this weekend, and let the teenagers see Escape Room, while the adults watch Green Book. Everyone will be happy.

1 ½ stars out of 5, and I was surprised my wife liked it a bit more.

THIS JUST IN: In a crazy case of life imitating art, in Poland, 5 girls died trying to get out of an escape room.



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