Escape From Tomorrow—Randall Moore’s surrealistic odyssey into the mental breakdown of a laid-off family man on vacation with his family at the most famous family attraction in the world—is a film that runs the risk of being better known for its back story than actual story. That attraction happens to be Disneyland, where Moore and his team surreptitiously (and infamously) shot at, pretending to be tourists to capture footage that baldly showcases famed Disney attractions and characters painted in the creepiest light possible. Ever since its premiere at Sundance, Escape From Tomorrow has gained a “how did they get away with this?” reputation, with people fearing that the litigation-obsessed “Happiest Place on Earth” would squash its release, making it a must see movie (while you can.) Unfortunately, those who will get to see the film will soon realize that reputation is just about the best thing it has going for it.
Not that Escape From Tomorrow is a bad film per se—for the circumstances it was filmed under, its a technically impressive piece of work—but its a bit of a mess, torn between cartoon surrealism, Polanski-meets-Lynch psychological freakout and satire that, given the circumstances, should have been little more scathing. Moore prizes weirdness over compelling plot (given the Dadaist nature of the proceedings, that’s not a big surprise) and what little story there is is remarkably straightforward for such craziness: on the last day of his family vacation to Disneyland, Jim (Roy Abramsohn) gets a call that his job has been terminated without reason. Determined to not let bad news get in the way of a good time for his family, Jim continues the trip only to begin slowly cracking up under the stress, hallucinating scary faces on the rides, getting into confrontations with a wheelchair-bound fellow father and obsessively following a pair of giggling, much-too-young French girls around the park.
One is primed for a fine bit of descent-into-mental-hell weirdness, but Moore plunges us too quickly into Jim’s fracturing psyche to get us to care about or least invest enough to buy the sub-Lynchian posturing as anything more than a stunt. It doesn’t help that Jim is, well, a bit of a dick. In fact, he’s a major douchebag—brusque, rude, whiny and a bit of pervy pedo creep—and his wife is no help either, a nagging, shrill shrew who spends most of the movie berating and snarling at Jim. Granted, we don’t necessarily need to like these characters, but even Lynch knew enough to make his central characters sympathetic in order to ground his films at their most out-there. Escape From Tomorrow is 90 minutes of a jerk-off cracking up.
It may not have made a difference had Moore actually given us some hallucinatory imagery worth watching. While the monochromatic black and white cinematography lends itself to turning Disneyland into a creepy nightmare world of perversely smiling faces, there isn’t much we haven’t seen before, and Moore spends much-too-much time on Jim’s pursuit of the two French girls, backloading the wierdest imagery and dragging the pace to a halt with too much repetitive perviness. Things begin to get better as it ends into its last act, but by then Moore has done more to bore us then wow us or disturb us. As surrealism, Escape From Tomorrow sorta, kinda fails.
Despite the seeming anti-Disney screed the material claims to be working to, the monolithic corporation sorta gets out easy, with Moore taking aim more at the general consumerist American mindset that bleeds into the forced whimsy of theme parks more than anything, and even that satire he softballs. With Escape From Tomorrow, Moore has opted to make a film that full of bizarre imagery without giving us any reason to give a damn about the imagery. Moore is capable of pulling off a stunt; let’s see if next time he can pull of an actual movie.
2.5 stars out of 5