[su_dropcap size=”5″]A[/su_dropcap] movie like Escape Room tends to get judged more harshly than it deserves. It’s like those deep fried Ding Dongs they sell at state fairs. Those glorious, cream-filled hockey pucks aren’t Baked Alaska, so why would you ever compare the two? You don’t hate on Escape Room because it’s not Doctor Zhivago. That’s just not fair. No, you should only judge it based on other gimmicky, half-assed horror movies. And on that basis, and maybe after several beers, it becomes a surprisingly palatable plate of Ding Dongs. (Side note: I’m starting a Kid Rock cover band called Fried Ding Dongs. That name is mine, and y’all can’t have it.)
Anyway, I know you’re dying to hear about this movie, so gather ’round my crackling campfire and I’ll tell you all about it. Six disparate souls receive a puzzle cube, enticing them to complete an escape room for prize money. Each person represents a riff on some movie cliché: There’s the Nerdy Wallflower (Taylor Russell), the Grunge Nerd (Logan Miller), the Nerd Who Won’t Shut Up (Nik Dodani), the Dad Bod Who Wants to Ask About the Milage on Your Car (Tyler Labine), the Smarmy Overachiever Who Probably Conducts Business Meetings During Racquetball Games (Jay Ellis), and the Woman with a Dark Secret (Deborah Ann Woll). These seemingly random people quickly find that the rooms have a life-and-death urgency that threatens to pick them off one at a time. Now, they have to work together to not only survive, but to figure out who brought them here and why.
Basically, take The Game (that old Michael Douglas/Sean Penn movie), combine it with Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory, and stir in a little Clue, and you’ll get Escape Room. The combo probably sounds real damn goofy, and it is. Before watching, I probably would’ve bet you a whole bowl of stew that I’d have hated this movie. But, damned if it’s not kinda fun. As long as you can just power off your brain, relax, and surrender to this film’s powerful sense of silliness, you might find yourself in a junk food coma, as well.
None of the actors really get a whole lot to do, as the script generally dumps exposition like a junk drawer turned upside down. Character details tumble out like keys that don’t open anything, pocket lint, bent playing cards, and receipts from Wendy’s. Despite that lack of substance, Woll and Russell elevate their characters the most, meaning they somehow find a way to make us care. Everybody else spends much of their time screaming at each other and sweating profusely.
Escape Room can’t maintain the good times for three whole acts. The script serves up a few last minute twists, and these mostly thunk to the ground like a poorly made paper airplane. By that point, you’ve either bought in or moved on to reruns of Frasier on Hulu. Well, I enjoyed watching people frantically try to solve puzzles and work their way out of a death box. The filmmakers even have the hubris to set up a potential sequel. After all, the only thing better than having one Fried Ding Dong
99 min. PG-13.