‘Escape Room: Tournament of Champions’ Repeats Its Predecessor’s Formula and Keeps Hinting at a Greater Conspiracy

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Escape Room: Tournament of Champions (CREDIT: Sony Pictures)

Starring: Taylor Russell, Logan Miller, Indya Moore, Holland Roden, Thomas Cocquerel, Carlito Olivero, Deborah Ann Woll

Director: Adam Robitel

Running Time: 88 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Violence That Cuts Away From the Most Graphic Parts and Profanity Including One (1) F-Bomb

Release Date: July 16, 2021 (Theaters)

I mostly enjoyed Escape Room: Tournament of Champions, but I’m a little worried about what this franchise will be like by the time we get to Escape Room 2000: Ultra Super-Duper New ‘n’ Improved XTreme Tournament of Ninja Warriors, which will arrive much sooner than we’re prepared for. I’m rooting for our plucky heroes to take down the evil cabal behind the whole game, but the dictates of horror sequelization demand that it can never quite be defeated. So subsequent entries will surely be some combination of overly repetitive or increasingly ridiculous to justify the continuation. Tournament of Champions mostly repeats the formula established by the first Escape Room, while ostensibly inching ever so closer to the Big Bad Behind It All, and also ultimately mostly being about teasing the next chapter.

I wouldn’t be going through all this fretting if I were living in a post-Escape Room Cinematic World. If I could watch all of the theoretical absurd sequels in the comfort of home one right after the other, I could easily treat it as an anthropological excursion. Instead, I’m still motivated by my genuine hope that everything will work out for the plucky Zoey (Taylor Russell) and Ben (Logan Miller), the survivors from the first go-round. Let’s call it the Nightmare on Elm Street Rule, wherein the relatively crappy latter-day sequels are mostly endearing if you watch them at least 20 years after they were released. That’s not to say that Escape Room has already reached that period with Tournament of Champions. It’s just that I can see The Inevitable, and it’s in my nature to get hung up on it.

But if I can pull myself back into the present for a moment, I can happily take in the vicarious thrills of a scrappy group puzzling out all these deadly traps. Both Escape Room flicks are basically PG-13-ified, less relentless versions of Saw. The tone is thereby one of cleverness and adrenaline, rather than gory sadism. In that vein, Escape Room also has a tendency to occasionally venture into the cheesy and overly cute, especially when Zoey and Ben miss some Major Clues that are right in front of their eyes. But that’s part of the charm! Honestly, I don’t think I would have it any other way. (Hey, maybe I’ve already learned to stop worrying and love the Silliness of It All…)

Escape Room: Tournament of Champions is Recommended If You Like: Horror movie franchise churn

Grade: 3 out of 5 Clues

‘Queen & Slim’ is an All-Too-Conceivable Vision of 21st Century Outlaws

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CREDIT: Andre D. Wagner/Universal Pictures

Starring: Danielle Kaluuya, Jodie Turner-Smith, Bokeem Woodbine, Flea, Chloë Sevigny, Indya Moore, Sturgill Simpson

Director: Melina Matsoukas

Running Time: 132 Minutes

Rating: R for The Violence, Profanity, and Sexuality of Highly Stressful Situations

Release Date: November 27, 2019

Viral moments of people of color being fatally wounded by police officers are a depressingly common occurrence in America, and they have become fodder for similarly discomfiting moments in fiction. So when Slim (Daniel Kaluuya) is able to fire back at Officer Reed (Sturgill Simpson) during a simple traffic stop, it feels like a moment a triumph as a sort of wake-up call to the audience that things can be done differently. But that sense of triumph quickly gives way to a feeling of queasiness, both because no loss of life is preferable to some loss of life (even when it’s in self-defense), and because that moment feels much more like the prelude to a greater tragedy rather than the end of one.

Queen (Jodie Turner-Smith) and Slim are bound by circumstance moreso than passion or really any sort of mutual attraction. Their encounter with Officer Reed occurs on the way home from their initial meeting with each other, and while it may not be the absolute worst first date of all time, it is pretty damn tense. Slim is generally go-with-the-flow, while Queen is all coiled, hardened intensity. That fire and ice combination is not often ideal for romance, and it is even worse when two black people are pulled over by a trigger-happy officer of the law. Slim is so casual nearly to the point of carelessness, while Queen cites legal rights as she aggressively demands to know why the situation is being escalated. But no matter how they react to the officer, you get the sense that they were in a trap the moment he pulled them over.

After they leave Reed on the side of the road, they ditch their phones and attempt to flee to some semblance of safety. Meanwhile, their story becomes headline news and they begin to be embraced by a not-insignificant portion of the population as a modern-day Bonnie and Clyde. Accordingly, you then get the sense that most of Queen & Slim is just a series of delays until an inevitable tragic end. In that sense, it plays like a fit of existentialism, sort of a more viscerally terrifying riff on No Exit. I cannot argue for the possibility of a happier ending, because that would have been something more fantastical than director Melina Matsoukas and screenwriter Lena Waithe are aiming for. As it is, this is not the most cohesive sort of cinema, but it has a fractured feel of intimate moments contrasting with wide-open spaces that captures a broken, but occasionally beautiful slice of Americana.

Queen & Slim is Recommended If You Like: Melina Matsoukas’ music videography

Grade: 3 out of 5 Escapes