A film review by Craig J. Koban October 28, 2021




2021, PG-13, 96 mins.

Taylor Russell as Zoey Davis  /  Logan Miller as Ben Miller  /  Indya Moore as Brianna  /  Holland Roden as Rachel  /  Thomas Cocquerel as Nathan

Directed by Adam Robitel  /  Written by Will Honley, Maria Melnik, Daniel Tuch, and Oren Uziel

UPDATED October 29, 2021


I like movies that are good dumb fun as much as the rest of you out there, but - to quote its full title - ESCAPE ROOM: TOURNAMENT OF CHAMPIONS is easily one of the most hilariously preposterous and nonsensical sequels that I've ever seen (and, yes, I've seen HIGHLANDER 2: THE QUICKENING).  

It's one of those efforts that unintentionally comes off like one of those SCARY MOVIE-esque genre spoofs...except...this isn't a spoof...and it takes itself as seriously as a heart attack.  ESCAPE ROOM: TOURNAMENT OF CHAMPIONS comes out relatively quickly on the heels of the first film from 2019, which was a problematic, but somewhat entertaining psychological horror thriller featuring a group of people being placed against their wills to survive a series increasingly complex and deadly escape rooms (and all orchestrated by unknown nefarious forces).  ESCAPE ROOM had a decent pulse of intrigue to it, whereas TOURNAMENT OF CHAMPIONS seems to be in constant flatline mode throughout its mercifully brief 80-plus minutes. 

As I mentioned in my review of the first entry, the core concept of this series is nifty enough (think SAW, but PG-13-ified and filled with creepy escape rooms), and for the most part director Adam Robitel (returning here again) was able to drum up reasonable amounts of nail biting suspense throughout, despite the limitless implausibility of it all and a climax that completely imploded within itself and tried ever so desperately hard to set up sequels and a franchise.  I modestly enjoyed the frankly bonkers and thoroughly logic straining death traps the first go around, but here they're so unfathomably and unbelievably intricate that they make what occurred in the first ESCAPE ROOM look like a fact based documentary by direct comparison.  ESCAPE ROOM: TOURNAMENT OF CHAMPIONS is slick looking enough on a production level and the actors give it their respective all with the cockamamie material given, but the core mechanics of this follow-up entry are - for lack of a better word - stupid, so stupid that I found myself asking way, way too many questions as the what was happening and how this was happening.  Good dumb fun films (let's call them GDFFs) allow you to embrace their sheer absurdity and laugh with them, but this film pushed me away at a frustrating distance...and I just started laughing at it.   

So, just as a refresher as to the first ESCAPE ROOM, that story featured a group of unsuspecting and pool souls being essentially abducted and forced to partake in a slew of highly deadly escape room puzzles.  With each one solved they (a) were spared death and (b) were thusly thrust into a subsequent puzzle that was even deadlier and more convoluted.  Just two of these people managed to survive the entirety of this hellish ordeal, leading to a very late breaking development that a purely evil and apparently omnipresent (like, seriously omnipresent) Minos Corporation was the root cause of it.  The former surviving players in Zoey (Taylor Russell) and Ben (Logan Miller) have been predictably traumatized by their first escape room experience, but when they discover evidence surrounding Minos and a potential location for their top secret HQ, Zoey springs into a revenge plan to uncover them and make them publicly pay.  Fearing flying and a probable new in-flight death trap (can't blame her paranoia), Zoey teams up with Sam and the pair make a long car pilgrimage to the Big Apple to scope out the coordinates of this Corporation's hidden lair of operations. 



Then, as they say, shit gets real. 

Wouldn't you know it, those pesky baddies at Minos have actually laid a trap that Zoey and Sam walked right into, despite their best efforts to avoid it.  Before they know it, both of them find themselves trapped within a subway car underground with a bunch of other former ex-escape room champions: Nathan (Thomas Cocquerel), Brianna (Indya Moore) and Rachel (Holland Roden), who share Zoey and Sam's past grief and now current pains of being forced to play this dangerous series of games again.  Forced against their wills to work together fast and collectively use their smarts to outsmart the new traps, Zoey, Sam and their new allies try as they can to overcome each new snuff game obstacle in order to get to the true manipulating mastermind behind it all and stop him for good.    

Lots of screaming, running, dodging, jumping, screaming...make that a lot more screaming...ensues. 

I rarely, if ever, felt that ESCAPE ROOM: TOURNAMENT OF CHAMPIONS made a convincing case for its sheer existence throughout.  It becomes quite clear that this sequel doesn't really do much with the previously enstablished premise outside of just regurgitating it wholesale and not propelling it in any newfangled direction.  Sometimes, this sequel feels like a glorified reboot more than a follow-up as it places these hapless characters - all disposable props being served up to the slaughter - in the same predicament and motions as before.  Obviously, we can't have an ESCAPE ROOM sequel without...escape rooms...but there's simply no real evolution of this material.  At its best, the first ESCAPE ROOM kind of worked as a simple one off, but then it essentially betrayed the good will of its first hour or so in an effort to spawn needless sequels.  This sequel is the unflattering product of that.  ESCAPE ROOM 1 had a level of inherent mystery and suspense at its core about the escape rooms, whereas now genuine thrills are in low supply in favor of numbing action.  That's a large trade down, if you ask me.

I howled and slapped my knees more than I care to admit throughout this film, which in no way shape or form was aiming to be a sly comedy.  The actors here have to utter some god-awful and aggressively on-the-nose lines of expositional dialogue throughout while being dropped in the various traps in question.  It annoys me to no end when seemingly intelligent people (you'd have to be to escape these rooms) say things to explain things to audience members that don't need explaining.  Like, in one instance, "This is a cage!" when a cage comes down on them or "This is the key!" when they pick one up or "Water is filling the room!" as H2O flows into said room...and so on and so on.  And they scream cookie cutter lines like this...all...the...time.  Indeed, these are hyper stressed victims, but the more ESCAPE ROOM: TOURNAMENT OF CHAMPIONS progressed the more I didn't want any of them to win in the end to fuel more further entries in this pretty much DOA series.  GDFFs shouldn't make you feel dumb for having watched them like this one does.   

And my keen analytic brain (curse you!) just kept speaking to me throughout this story, especially when it came to the freakish imaginations of those at Minos, not to mention the hard to swallow levels of resources, money, and social/political power they must have in order to pull these rooms off.  The aforementioned subway car trap that opens the games here...like...how is this possible?  Does Minos own subway cars?  Specific subway tracks in New York?  Do they own the entire subway rail system?  Now, this subway trap - if solved - then allows for the surviving contestants to immediately flee out of it and into a laser booby trapped bank (wait, what?!) that then leads to what appears to be a sun drenched beach (wait...double what!?) and so forth.  I'm willing to go with any film and its out-there premise, but Minos is a corporate entity that's obscenely in control of far too many facets of our normal world to ever be feel credible.  That, and I severely question the very sanity of Zoey and Sam at the beginning of this film.  In the last one they went toe-to-toe with this mad empire and fully knew that they were capable of just about any elaborate deception they could muster up...so why did these two young heroes think that the best option for them was to...drive to their HQ and stop them without backup or any plan? 

And just as was the case before, ESCAPE ROOM: TOURNAMENT OF CHAMPIONS (credited to four - count 'em...FOUR! - writers) offers up yet another round of eleventh hour, would-be shocking plot reveals that ends this outing on a cliffhanger (sigh) and a build-up to an ESCAPE ROOM 3 that poses new challenges and foes to square off against.  Yeah...no.  Having ambiguous endings is one thing, but this film barely making it to its ending and then serving up some bait and switch theatrics to spice up fairly comatose scripting is one big cheat, if you ask me.  I wanted to see a complete movie last time, as I did this time, but the ESCAPE ROOM films so far simply don't display enough fiendish and clever innovation with its ideas to make me yearn in the slightest for any continuation whatsoever.  ESCAPE ROOM 1 was an okay first draft attempt at something fresh that was ruined by a sequel bait non-ending, and ESCAPE ROOM: TOURNAMENT OF CHAMPIONS inexplicably is an even bigger offender as a lame placeholder installment for what the makers think are better things to come.  

I don't want these games to continue.  I just want these games to be over. 




It has been brought to my attention by STARFISH director (and friend of many years) A.T. White that an alternate cut of this film has been developed for its home video/VOD release, which was completely and embarrassingly unknown to me until after I posted this review.  In the case of ESCAPE ROOM: TOURNAMENT OF CHAMPIONS, its new cut is approximately eight minutes longer than the theatrical version, but reportedly alters the beginning and ending of the film and has upwards of 26 minutes of new material added in.  For the purposes of full disclosure, my review here was of the retooled home video edition and not of the one originally screened in cinemas.  In the months ahead I'll attempt to seek out the theatrical version and post an update of this review afterwards.  

  H O M E