Friday, October 18, 2013

Unhappiest Place: ESCAPE FROM TOMORROW


As a gigantic international corporation with a carefully guarded reputation as a gleaming beacon of childhood entertainment for the whole family, the Walt Disney Company is certainly ripe for satirical potshots. What little there is to enjoy about first-time filmmaker Randy Moore’s Escape from Tomorrow comes from the moderately naughty fizz that comes from knowing the movie, a black and white indie about a middle-aged man descending into an increasingly hallucinatory mental breakdown while on vacation with his wife and kids, was shot covertly at Disney parks. There’s initially a funny sense of outmaneuvering a would-be omnipotent corporate force to create a film about how, taken to its extreme, omnipresent entertainment in the happiest place on earth can exacerbate a fragile mental state. But after no more than a few minutes, that all wears off and what we’re left with is a scattered and hollow provocation.

Filmed on consumer-grade digital cameras, the movie has a nightmarish home-video quality as the man (Roy Abramsohn) bickers with his wife (Elena Schuber), ignores his children (Katelynn Rodriguez and Jack Dalton), and finds his eye drawn lecherously towards two young French teenage tourists (Danielle Safady and Annet Mahendru) with whom he crosses paths both purposely and accidentally throughout the day. There’s nothing about that premise that needs Disney. Sure, there’s a minor jolt from seeing an early hallucination in which the “It’s a Small World” marionettes appear to glare at the man, but the film largely plays out as a meandering bad-trip travelogue that slowly turns into a darkly loopy sub-Lynchian bit of stupid surrealist posturing.

As soon as it’s clear that the movie would be more or less the same if it took place at Six Flags or Wally World or an abandoned lot, the movie only grows emptier and more unpleasant as it drags itself at an interminable pace towards its conclusion. Are we really supposed to give points for difficulty in assessing this film? It was certainly some kind of feat to sneak into the parks without permits or permission and choreograph the necessary scenes. Moving actors into position and getting dialogue recorded couldn’t have been easy. What about multiple takes? I wonder how they managed that without arousing the suspicion of security?

But these are all questions of logistics and execution. I’m sure the filmmakers would rather me chuckle along with their mildly transgressive (mostly for the contrast with the setting) violent and sexual content, enjoy the half-baked corporate commentary, and feel a twinge of sympathy for a man who is slowly driven insane by trying to survive the happiest place on Earth. But none of that resonated with me. It felt strained and false awfully quickly, coasting on its assumed transgression without making meaning out of it. Try as I might, I simply couldn’t get on board with a movie that could only generate interest in its content insofar as it feels like they’re putting one over on the theme park of its setting. Escape from Tomorrow is a movie with a deadened and deadening prankish spirit married to slight, awkward, ultimately pointless filmmaking. I cringed at the endless stiffly written scenes and at a few obviously green-screened shots, and sat with my arms crossed, waiting for it add up to anything at all, or, failing that, for it all to be over.

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