“No Escape,” a “Saw” like murder-puzzle thriller originally titled “Follow Me,” hits enough of its marks to earn a “not half bad” label.
It may not do the best job of putting-us-in-the-hero’s predicament. But as for the grisly chills and suspense presented by that predicament, it delivers the goods.
Keegan Allen of TV’s “Pretty Little Liars” is Cole Turner, a gonzo “Escape Real Life” vlogger/adrenalin salesman. He, with his team, promises to “take you somewhere you’ve probably never been” seeing and doing something “you would never do.”
He’s accomplished at selfie live-streaming and a master of hype. All he and “American Gladiators” tough Samantha (Siya from “Sisterhood of Hip Hop”) and his right-hand man Dash (George Janko) have to do is make each hyped-to-hell adventure more gonzo than the last.
And this Moscow outing, to this “next-level-loaded” Russian oligarch’s escape room complex, promises to be just that. Bringing along girlfriend Erin (Holland Roden) and “my best friend in the world” Thomas (Denzel Whitaker of “Black Panther” and “Cut Throat City”) ensures that it’ll be like a vacation, right?
The odd edgy/violent encounter with foes of their host, a hipster parody of a young Russian oligarchy (Ronen Rubenstein) doesn’t harsh Cole’s hype.
“I don’t know why everybody s–t talks Russia. Besides the guns and gangsters, it’s not that bad” he uploads onto his site.
There’s all this sketchy stuff going on around them, but Cole only has eyes for his audience. A visit to a lavish Russian nightclub is just “Whoa, so much CONTENT” to him.
The puzzle? He and his friends will be parked in “Bolshevik Prison,” with each of them in a cell in a torture device — The Rack, the Iron Maiden, a glass booth filling with water, an electric chair. Cole has to puzzle them out of these fixes.
Writer-director Will Wernick, whose previous film was titled “Escape Room,” tries to write around repeating himself here. The first act introduces us to this scary, alien world (Nobody in the crew speaks Russian, no subtitles are provided for the viewer, either.) where “they don’t have the same rules.”
Cole is all “I wonder if Alexei got that” harrowing moment on camera, self-absorbed and chill.
“Relax, bro, it’s a game.“
The first act set-up does its job of laying out the terrain, the players and the stakes.
The escape room takes up the middle act. That middle act — where one “clue” is hidden in a fresh corpse Cole must dissect — is where all the suspense and the few inventive touches to the script reside. It’s where the quintet journey from “just a game” to “What just happened?”
It’s the third act where “No Escape” loses its way, becomes even more generic than the “Saw” inspired puzzles and lapses into something a lot more like “Hostel,” and a limp imitation of it at best.
Most of the characters are badly under-developed. Even Cole is painted in broad, simplistic strokes. Putting glasses on Thomas makes him “the smart one.” That’s lazy screenwriting.
The Russians in the cast are here for their generic hulking menace.
It’s a step up from “Escape Room,” but “No Escape” shows Wernick’s uphill battle to make a mark in the genre. There have been other movies titled “Escape Room,” and others titled “No Escape.”
He’s a writer-director in a trap of his own typing.
MPAA Rating: R for bloody violence, grisly images, pervasive language, some graphic nudity and brief drug use
Keegan Allen, Denzel Whitaker, Holland Roden, Ronen Rubinstein, George Janko, Siya
Credits: Written and directed by Will Wernick. A Vertical Entertainment release.
Running time: 1:31