A film review by Craig J. Koban January 25, 2021

LOCKED DOWN j
 

MAX ORIGINAL MOVIE

2021, R, 114 mins.

Anne Hathaway as Linda  /  Chiwetel Ejiofor as Paxton  /  Ben Stiller as Sollomon  /  Ben Kingsley as Malcolm  /  Mindy Kaling as Kate Stephen Merchant as Michael  

Directed by Doug Liman  /  Written by Steven Knight
 

 

ORIGINAL FILM

LOCKED DOWN is not only a very early contender for one of the worst films of our very young year, but it's also unquestionably a surefire cure for anyone that suffers from insomnia.   

I was just twenty minutes into this COVID-19 pandemic themed romantic comedy heist film (yeah, let that settle in quickly...and more on that in a bit) and found it to be almost insufferably dull and lacking in any type of forward momentum.  It takes a certain level of ambition (and maybe some would say nerve) to want to make a comedy, of sorts, out of the gravity of our current worldwide predicament (this isn't the first film to use COVID-19 as a backdrop, but it's aiming for immediate timeliness by setting its story in the present).  The best way to describe the ordeal of enduring LOCKED DOWN is that it miraculously manages to find a way to make the most relevant and relatable event in everyone's life right now with the most unrelatable characters, many of which are played by multiple Oscar winning and nominated actors.  I grew dizzy just thinking about all of the creative missteps that this film made while watching it, which makes the fact that it's from the director of THE BOURNE IDENTITY and the writer of LOCKE all the more damning. 

Director Doug Liman and writer Steven Knight have respectively made superlative films.  This ain't one. 

I don't think that I have a problem, per se, with the idea of making a pandemic themed film of our time (and one that was entirely written, produced, financed, filmed, and released during our current pandemic and over the course of less than three weeks) and that utilized a very limited budget and resources under tight restrictions.  I've read articles that have concerned the pressures and constraints of making LOCKED DOWN, which have detailed all of the sacrifices that the cast and crew had to make to see this through to final fruition.  But, sweet Lord, the resulting effort is such a conceptual trainwreck that it definitely comes off as disposable and amateurish junk that just happens to be made by A-listers.  Plus, LOCKED DOWN commits perhaps the biggest sin of thinking that viewers (many of which are still confined to their homes) are clamoring for light hearted and whimsical takes of our current devastating global health crisis.  Good intentions aside, Liman has essentially made a stunt film that suffers from gimmicky elements, and one that has been quite falsely advertised as a slick and funny London diamond heist flick akin to tone of the OCEAN films.  

OCEAN'S ELEVEN this ain't. 

 

 

What passes for a plot here concerns London based couple Paxton (a mostly confused looking Chiwetel Ejiofer) and Linda (a mostly histrionic Anne Hathaway) that have been mightily struggling during the mandatory lockdown that their city is riddled with, forcing them to stay in and go virtually no where.  Paxton has just been terminated from his job and is desperate to make ends meet, even feeling forced to sell his prized motorcycle (something that the screenplay places an inordinate amount of focus on).  Linda, on the other hand, still has her job as a corporate retail CEO that's growing increasingly despondent with being trapped inside 24/7 and becomes even more troubled when she's forced by her superiors (one played by Ben Stiller) to layoff her company's staff via Zoom (one of LOCKED DOWN's more tone deaf creative choices is assuming that audiences will relate to characters like Linda, who's anything but blue collar and financially struggling victim...or Paxton, who's a sad sack that turns to drugs and becoming a street beat poet....like, WTF?).   

So, yes, I'm sure you're all wondering how the hell (and when the hell) the heavily marketed caper elements come into play here.  That subplot doesn't get revealed until the 70-plus minute mark.  That's 70 with a seven followed by a zero.  A majority of LOCKED DOWN leading up to that point traps us within Paxton and Linda's posh apartment, which is presented through a series of stagy one on one verbal spats between the pair that are offset by many, many Zoom calls (so...many...Zoom calls) with other characters we simply never grow to care about at all.  Oh, as for the heist itself?  It appears that a ridiculously expensive Harris Diamond is at one of Linda's department stores that's in the process of thinning out its inventory because of the lockdown.  Linda hatches a plan (that's almost too nonsensically convoluted to describe...but I'll try) to use her powerful profile and Paxton's newfound (and highly convenient) job as a driver for a transportation company to steal the diamond and reap the financial rewards. 

Let me be blunt.  I simply didn't care for anyone or anything in this film.  Ejiofer - one of our finest actors - has never played such an annoying character in his storied career.  Plus, he's utterly pretentious, especially when screaming out stanzas from T.S. Elliot (from his phone, I might add) to his neighbors who probably in a normal plane of existence would be incessantly screaming at him to shut the hell up.  His overall performance doesn't help matters much as well, which is far too schizophrenic and all over the map for its own good.  Hathaway fares no better either, and any tangible chemistry she has with her agitated co-star seems born out of their frequent spats or some of their more eye rolling monologues that Knight seems to think gives these characters some edge and color, but only serves to numb viewers into slumping deep into their chairs.  Hearing these personas mumble on incessantly about self-loathing and their struggles is beyond off-putting (especially seeing as this is supposed to be a comedy).  And then we get - as mentioned - soooooo many conference calls with other good actors being squandered in nothing parts (like Stiller, Mindy Kaling, and Ben Kingsley, with all them appearing to have shown up here as a quick favor, playing their roles in what's clearly their own homes via video feed).  If LOCKED DOWN was aiming for making us feel like we are hopelessly confined in with these thoroughly dislikeable characters and with no hope or relief in sight...then...mission accomplished. 

And that heist!  It's so weakly constructed and lacking in any serious or tangible tension that I had to pinch and remind myself to stay actively involved.  As LOCKED DOWN slithered towards an finale - and a heavy handed and never once earned two hour running time - I was overcome with near paralyzing listlessness.  This is such a meandering and shapeless mess that utilizes some truly fine talent in front of and behind the camera that collectively probably should have known better.  If anything, LOCKED DOWN is kind of the poster child for "Brotman's Law" (named after a Chicago movie exhibitor named Oscar Brotman and featured in the late Roger Ebert's glossary of movie rules and conventions): "If nothing happens by the end of the first reel, nothing is going to happen."  And literally nothing happens throughout two thirds of this film.  LOCKED UP isn't guilty of coming out too soon, but it is guilty of thinking that its approach to telling a COVID-centric story is somehow ground-breaking and weighty.  When the pandemic is finally over no one - and I mean no one - will remember it.

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