Escape from Germany (2024)

Escape from Germany Review

Escape from Germany

Being a senior millennial, I grew up with Joel, Mike, and the ‘Bots in Mystery Science 3000. Accordingly, I am now an accidental connoisseur of bad movies. Unfortunately for me (and anyone else who has lived through The Giant Gila Monster (or Escape from L.A., for that matter)), Hollywood continues to make terrible films and every single one of my personal hallmarks/red flags for bad movies. So I say all that to say this: If you watch Escape from Germany with someone who’s survived The Giant Gila Monster (or Escape from L.A.), expect a LOT of nudging and winking because this film burns through nearly every signpost of incompetent storytelling.

The TLDR version of this review is; I’ve been to church services that were more interesting than this film. And I don’t even mean the creepy megachurch service that put the fear of human sacrifice in me. I mean Sunday morning Catholic Masses which last 3–5 years and make the DMV look riveting. Nothing against Mass, mind you if you like it, great! But no sane person walks out of one thinking “I should make a movie.”

Now don’t get me wrong as white and delightsome as my friends in the Latter Day Saints Church are (my semi-apologies folks, but your otherwise great religion ruined a Saturday afternoon so), I wouldn’t make a movie about them. Not just because it would be unethical, but because as great as they are they’re not interesting enough to watch two hours about. Again nothing against them; but you can’t tell an interesting nuanced gripping tale with emotionally mature functional people. By definition they have the tools to solve almost every problem they come across easily. That’s why they’re functional.

Escape from Germany asks “but what if those same people were almost stranded in Nazi Germany?” Turns out, that situation is exactly as interesting as my LDS friends navigating a trip to the DMV. And if this movie is accurate, for the exact same stakes. Arguably, the stakes at the DMV are higher because there are consequences for actions; whereas in this awful film the characters’ motivations come from their leaders who have suspiciously bad and vague feelings about 1939 Germany (the leaders; apart from pausing to pray during climactic sequences, there are breaks in the action because none of the characters exhibit any personal agency).

The movie is about saving the missionaries serving the Mormon Church in Germany in 1939. As Europe’s infamous bootheel of fascism is being slipped on, The President of The Mission receives a revelation (maybe; it’s a scene that invokes both divine will and intelligence sources) that Germany will invade Poland and permanently close its borders. So because this was before telecommunications technology had advanced to where it could be used by humans, The Mission President has 30-odd young missionaries who haven’t gotten word to evacuate; so he sends a young missionary named Anderson to go get them.

I should mention right now that I’m watching We Were the Lucky Ones and World War 2 in Color (both are excellent), so I’m not in the mood to be kind to any movies that are sympathetic to the Reich. Escape from Germany is not Triumph of the Will but it’s also not necessarily a condemnation of Naziism either. During this summer’s protests, someone pointed out that racism rarely looks like somebody wearing Klan robes; most often, it looks like local news anchors casually smearing the character of Black and brown kids shot by kops. And while we’re on the subject.

yes, we know the Nazis are bad because they shout at Jewish refugees on their way to Denmark. The Jewish family follows our characters around throughout all these big scenes in this painfully slow movie. But they didn’t have freedom of movement under Hitler, did they? Again doughy white men getting glowered at by what appear to be actual Gestapo agents who then take their money is about as close as we come here. Also, one of the conscripted Wehrmacht soldiers is a good Mormon boy! Yeah, there are all these weird emotional flips woven throughout this entire film that kinda undercut any possible perception it might be making an open denouncement of fascism or Nazi policies.

This movie gave me a weird feeling. I had my first brain tumor at 17, so I’ve always been a minority with passing privilege I know that an insurance-claims denial is the only thing separating me from death. Because this film is allergic to anything bad, no Nazi in it ever does anything like violent. One of the protagonists arrives in Germany to a book burning, during which a Bad German burns The Book of Mormon (or some variant thereof; I’m inferring based on context). That’s literally the worst thing a Nazi does in this film. For the rest of the movie, they’re funny. Jewish people may have had something of a rough time in that particular time and place so you’d be surprised that the most suffering endured by the poor background Jewish family is having their belongings thrown around them.

Which is mean, but also about as menacing as “8-year-old in principal’s office.” There’s another scene later where Wehrmacht soldiers shoot at a fleeing group of Mormon refugees but they’re so bad at it that on screen an old man successfully dodges bullets while wheeling two huge suitcases. The scariest things any other Nazis do on screen are glower at our heroes and try to steal their money. On a scale of terror, the Nazi Menace in this film is less menacing than literally any librarian (especially if she’s hot; then there’s inappropriate arousal mixed in). It was 90 hours into this movie when characters were compiling lists of missing missionaries that it dawned on me what it must be like being part of the majority in America: You know terrible things are happening to other people, but your worst fear is getting mugged. Which definitely sucks, but is kind of Dachau-lite. And while LDS missionaries probably would’ve found themselves inside such camps during WWII, there’s absolutely no hint of that possibility given by this film. One quick way to add stakes to this movie would be for someone to discover, during one of the interminable office-clerking scenes (again: if you have a five-minute sequence that serves only to deliver the line “He’s got all the missionaries,” you have too much movie on your hands and should hire a screenwriter), the existence of Dachau. As is; these characters are just experiencing what most people who’ve traveled other countries have: corrupt, inept local officials; sadistic customs/border administrators; baksheesh. That’s an article in a travel magazine, not a 97-minute film. I get that Navigating Difficult Customs Agents is not a movie anyone wants to see, but that’s this film exactly.

Also, the picture is bizarrely religious. And by weird I mean really odd. I know that modern Christendom has learned that small children are more likely to be scared by Passion of the Christ approach (for anyone wondering why I’m highly cynical about religion, it may have something to do with the alleged Lutheran minister who told me at age 4 that I would burn in hell if I didn’t accept White Republican Jebus as my personal Lord and Savior), so most congregations don’t go into much depth about theology in their pop cultural aspirations; it’s usually a more subtle

Thom Robb approach about wholesome moral values we can all agree on, then you insert Jebus later. Remember that creepy megachurch service? Yeah, they used to be my neighbors before I upgraded to the Mormons (oddly enough, despite the missionaries, my neighbors are decent enough to leave me alone when uninvited to spiritual affairs)(there’s also a 50% chance they know I’d be spiteful and start sacrificing goats in the yard). Both Chreepy Christians and Mormons have prayed over me because I’m a chronic cancer patient and need all the help I can get. The Chreepy Christians just started praying right then and there, and prayed what can only be described as “The Panicked 6th Grade Overdue Oral Report and Christ-o-riffic Free Verse Rsp.” It was deeply awkward and aggressively bad, to say the least. My Mormon friends actually scheduled a time to come pray over me, explained that prayer wasn’t a substitute for medicine but rather meant to convey that the whole community and ideally God were behind me in my efforts. It was actually kind of nice.

Those two examples are brought up because despite being of the same faith as my neighbors (albeit 90-ish years ago so something might’ve changed), the LDS missionaries in this film never occasionally pause in public to pray the Panicked 6th Grader’s prayer, as Jebus instructed. Once again, I get that this movie is supposed to show the LDS Church in a positive light, but stopping the entire film for MISSIONARIES TO PRAY! made me miss the double-checking lists scenes. It’s just weird and off-putting, and again, I live next door to Mormons, I have never once seen them praying in public (which I do appreciate guys). Again it’s a weird mash-up message of “Ours is the one true religion but it’s populated by people you’d cross the street to avoid.”

Looking for crypto-fascist and/or religious messaging in a film while you’re watching it is a good sign of how horrendously boring this whole dragging thing is. Remember when I mentioned MST3K? Well, rotting my adolescent brain with Arizona Werewolf and This Island Earth gave me some standards for bad movies from unwatchable drek like this (and Cry Wilderness) to the “So bad, it’s kind of good” movies like Road House (a movie that is so unapologetically and consistently terrible that it’s Oscar-worthy). The hallmark scene always involves two generically attractive burly men talking about a mundane house/work chore, dissecting how they are going to do said chore, then the film-makers will show them doing the thing. You can plot out house chores or work tasks with the characters and do it with them, in real time. This particular example came to mind because the main characters spend an astonishing amount of time doing office work, and talking about their office work.

I mean sure, “Trying to keep track of 30–ish missing missionaries” will necessitate lists and phone calls, but that takes either 5 minutes or 5 hours of this movie. The film ineptly tries to justify this blatant time-wasting writing by mentioning that one of the (female) secretaries who inexplicably seems psychic in the film, because she can read the contents at a glance (she went on to invent speed-reading), but while I’m all for having another woman get some lines (seriously there’s a sea of white doughy guys in this cast with some blonde women thrown in for diversity), I have questions about what any of this list making business had to do with the plot. Unless this is some weird pro-Christian Schindler’s List remake where they want a film without any swearing or violence or well-developed characters more than they want historical accuracy or content.

When it comes to historical accuracy, the movie plays hard and fast with facts. The film claims and I promise you the end title cards are way more interesting than anything in this film that all local LDS leadership was clairvoyant about Germany and the Church, and that Hitler loved the LDS church’s principles of genealogy (duh) and divine right (I don’t know any Mormons who aren’t some kind of democrat so I can’t speak to that). So at this point in my nap through this movie I’m left with believing that the LDS Church is true but also Nazis. And I get the first part no one wants to join a false church except for me, who subscribes to Pastafarianism just because it’s funny to think about how mad people would be if there actually were a true church and I wasn’t in it but the second point throws me off. I have an uncle who loves The Donald, hates everyone else, believes Jews control everything etc etc etc (not like “AIPAC is unethically influencing American foreign policy” but like Blood Libel shit), we pretend he’s dead or whatever because life is too short for this level of tsuris.. why would a Mormon cinematographer-director go out of his way to link LDS ideals with Hitler? It doesn’t make sense.

But aside from being tragic on an “I paid money for this and am sober” level, it’s tragic on another level: The real story is clearly compelling as hell. And it deserves better than this movie.

Watch Escape from Germany For Free On Gomovies.

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