THE FINAL LEVEL: ESCAPING RANCALA is a great big slab of goofy fun. Although it's The Asylum's mockbuster of JUMANJI: THE NEXT LEVEL (2019), due to budgetary constraints it's more reminiscent of earlier films such as TRON (1982), the 'Bishop of Battle' segment of anthology movie NIGHTMARES (1983), and Full Moon's ARCADE (1993). The story: avid videogamer Jake and his younger sister Sarah are spending time at Jake's favourite hangout, the local video game arcade. While Sarah goes outside to meet their mother, Jake lingers to play one last game... and is never seen again. Ten years later, a now-twentysomething Sarah (played by Jessica Chancellor) has become a successful redheaded entrepreneur, but is still deeply affected by her brother's disappearance. As a result, her latest about-to-launch business venture is a tribute to him - a themed bar that is partly a faithful recreation of a video arcade, complete with vintage games. Sarah's partners in this enterprise are her two friends since childhood, brunette tech nerd Rae (Tiana Tuttle) whose job is to make sure everything works, and blonde networking vlogger/blogger Chrissy (Emily Sweet), in charge of advertising, publicity and social media. However,
when the last game to be installed turns out to be'Rancala', the game Jake was playing when he disappeared, the three friends find themselves sucked into it, and are faced with the multiple tasks of surviving and completing the game, finding Jake and trying to return to the real world.
There's a hugely pleasing amount of meta humour in THE FINAL LEVEL (which probably reaches it's zenith early on, as the girls discover the first end-of-level boss opponent is a sharknado) centring on the trio of heroines adapting to being inside a video game: having to instinctively duck their heads every time an on-screen message appears, learning that unfeasibly large objects (oars, long-barrelled sniper rifles, planks of wood) can be pulled from the modestly-sized backpacks they're wearing, and having their clothes automatically change to match every new environment they enter. Arriving on a beach, they find themselves suddenly clad in just some skimpy & revealing bikinis. "Do you think a man designed this game?" deadpans Chrissy.
Enjoyable though THE FINAL LEVEL is, there are some negatives: much of the movie's initial fun and inventivity ebbs out after the first 35 - 40 minutes, and the film starts to drag during it's middle section. That said, things do rally in the final stretch with some welcome twists, although the reveal of The King - the game's final, super-boss opponent - is a disappointment, due to some typical Asylum penny pinching. He really should be a dastardly arch-enemy, part-Vader, part-Ming the Merciless, ruling Rancala from a lair that's half-gothic castle, half-Death
Star control room. Instead, he's just some ranty man in a vaguely naval officer-style uniform, sitting on a throne made out of twigs, on a raised platform in the middle of a forest clearing. Very unsatisfying. The movie's low budget special effects and CGI mostly past muster, apart from a disastrous sequence in which two of the girls move at super-speed (having been given selected superpowers courtesy of the game), which just doesn't work and should have been left on the cutting room floor.
Characterisation is also tissue-thin, and although the three lead actresses do their best to flesh out the trio of heroines, they don't quite succeed (Sweet comes closest) due to simply having so little to work with. Full marks though to Chancellor, Tuttle and Sweet for throwing themselves full-bodily into THE FINAL LEVEL's many, many fight scenes, which are shot so you can see it's clearly the actresses and not stunt doubles who are throwing punches, high-kicking and back-flipping. And considering this movie is clearly intended for a family audience, kudos to The Asylum for including a scene in which two of the characters matter-of-factly share a same-sex kiss (this is nothing new for The Asylum - their mainstream 2007 mockbuster TRANSMORPHERS had two key characters in a same-sex marriage).
Despite it's flaws, I enjoyed THE FINAL LEVEL immensely and in my humble opinion it stands alongside the likes of SHERLOCK HOLMES (2010), MERCENARIES (2014) and the AVENGERS GRIMM movies as one of the most entertaining films The Asylum has yet made. It's hard to dislike a movie that features a girl successfully dropkicking a charging rhino.