‘Escape Room: Tournament of Champions’: Film Review

Taylor Russell returns in Adam Robitel’s sequel to the riddles-and-boobytraps actioner ‘Escape Room.’

An underwhelming attempt to turn a tight little thriller into a sequel-spawning franchise, Adam Robitel’s Escape Room: Tournament of Champions lacks many of the original’s strengths while failing to improve on its more underdeveloped aspects. A less interesting cast of characters supports the first installment’s star Taylor Russell, whose Zoey remains committed to exposing the crimes of the mysterious Minos organization. And the perils they face, though sometimes diverting, mostly lack the elegance of the 2019 film’s scares.

Things begin with a strange recap, which plays like a TV drama’s “previously on“ preface. Aside from making the viewer feel like he’s back on his couch, where he’s been binging series for most of the lonely time since Escape Room was released, this sequence is also completely redundant, as it’s immediately followed by one in which Zoey talks to a therapist whose name could be Dr. Exposition: Still unable to convince anyone that a secretive group of billionaires is staging elaborate game-of-death escape rooms for its own amusement, Zoey has kept investigating on her own. She believes the group, Minos, operates from a New York City address, but hasn’t been able to conquer her fear of flying and go there with fellow survivor Ben (Logan Miller).

Escape Room: Tournament of Champions

The Bottom Line

Less satisfying than its predecessor.

Release date: Wednesday, July 21

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

Director: Adam Robitel

Screenwriters: Will Honley, Maria Melnik, Daniel Tuch, Oren Uziel

Rated PG-13,
1 hour 28 minutes

The doc (Lucy Newman-Williams) thinks getting on an airplane will help cure Zoey’s delusions. Instead, Zoey finally decides to drive to NYC — where she and Ben find nothing but an abandoned building.

They’re robbed, though, and a footchase with the thief leads them into the subway. There they inexplicably (really: the movie doesn’t even try to explain) wind up in a subway car whose other inhabitants are all the sole survivors of their own escape-room traumas. The car turns into an electrified trap, and they all realize it’s going to be a very long day. (Or, if they’re unlucky, a very short one.)

By the low standards of cheapo genre fare, Escape Room drew its characters fairly well, casting engaging actors and giving them just enough backstory to matter. Here, we get ciphers we’ve met before and/or would rather not know. Which would you rather be stuck in a deathtrap with: the alcoholic fallen priest (Thomas Cocquerel) or the Instagram influencer (Indya Moore)? Don’t think about it too hard, because they’ll both probably be dead soon.

Robitel and his screenwriters (four this time, up from two) struggle to come up with tricky ways for their heroes to face and evade death. Last time, they were going to burn up or freeze to death, be poisoned or fall fifteen stories. Here, the bottom-line danger may be just as elemental (acid, lasers, electrification), but the specifics are more contrived and convoluted, overbusy in a way that emphasizes how unsatisfying most of the movie’s riddles and puzzles are.

Nothing here comes anywhere close to the excitement offered in the last film’s upside-down pool hall, which also contained more convincing moments of heroic teamwork than Tournament can muster. The sequel undercuts some of that heroism, in a way, in a twisty development that may be spoiled for those who look closely at its credits beforehand. But the revelation that Minos wants something specific from Zoey beyond her grisly death would seem a promising way to open up the saga.

It doesn’t quite work that way, at least not yet. We learn even less about the unseen villains than we did in the first picture, and this outing’s end, a straight-up cliffhanger, will leave many viewers feeling cheated. Tournament provides genre buffs with a lesson in diminishing returns, and may leave most of them impatient for an unambiguous “Game Over.”

Full credits

Production company: Original Film
Distributor: Columbia Pictures
Cast: Taylor Russell, Logan Miller, Indya Moore, Holland Roden, Thomas Cocquerel, Carlito Olivero, Deborah Ann Woll
Director: Adam Robitel
Screenwriters: Will Honley, Maria Melnik, Daniel Tuch, Oren Uziel
Producer: Neal H. Moritz
Executive Producers: Karina Rahardja, Adam Robitel, Philip Waley
Directors of photography: George Amos, Marc Spicer
Production designer: Edward Thomas
Costume designers: Kati Chwist, Reza Levy
Editors: Steve Mirkovich, Peter Pav
Composers: John Carey, Brian Tyler
Casting director: Tamara-Lee Notcutt

Rated PG-13, 1 hour 28 minutes