A film review by Craig J. Koban April 19, 2012



2012, PG-13, 95 mins.


Snow: Guy Pearce / Emilie: Maggie Grace / Alex: Vincent Regan / President: Peter Hudson / Langral: Peter Stormare

Directed by Stephen St. Leger and James Mather / Written by St. Leger, Mather and Luc Besson.

The new sci-fi action thriller LOCKOUT is so relentlessly tedious, contrived, and derivative that it barely registers as an original thought for a film, let alone an original premise.  

Co-scripted and produced by the Euro-trash provocateur Luc Besson (whose schlock and awe pictures as of late have been reasonably enjoyable diversions), LOCKOUT is a pathetic pastiche of ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK right down to the gruff, monosyllabic, and tough-as-nails anti-hero that is recruited by the government to engage in a deadly mission to rescue a person of political significance.  To say that LOCKOUT is paying loving homage to Carpenter’s film is kind of a disservice, because the final product here is a witless and joyless mess that grows more groan-inducing, tiresome, and uninspired by the minute. 

Set in the far future of 2079 that contains the obligatory flying cars, space planes, and satellites with artificial gravity despite having other devices like cell phones that look positively modern, LOCKOUT concerns the mission of Snake Plisken…er…make that ex-CIA operative, now disgraced wanted man, Snow (Guy Pearce) that has been wrongfully framed for murder.  A high ranking government agent named Langral (played with suitable levels of ooze by Peter Stormare) is very willing to throw the book at Snow and put him away for the next 30 years.  Snow does manage to get just such a lengthy sentence to be served on MS-1, an unfathomably large space station prison orbiting the Earth.  

Plans change for Snow, though: it appears that the President’s daughter, Emilie (Maggie Grace, the taken daughter in question that was rescued by Liam Neeson in the Besson produced and written TAKEN) is a well-to-do humanitarian that is on a personal crusade to study inmate conditions aboard the space penal system (apparently, there were no earthbound prisons to study).  She finds her way up to MS-1, but then gets in the middle of a massive prison riot led by two brothers, the smart and cunning Alex (Vincent Regan) and the proverbial loose canon Hydell (Joseph Gilgun).  It appears that the government would find it advantageous to send in just one man, which seems like lunacy considering that an army would be required to take back control of the prison.  Conveniently, Snow is just such a man that has a "particular set of skills" that make him a perfect candidate to rescue Emilie while – at the same time – locating one key prisoner that could clear his name once and for all. 



One central problem with LOCKOUT is with Guy Pearce’s casting as Snow.  Pearce is one of our finest actors, but he seems all kinds of wrong playing a bulked-up, wise-cracking, and physically imposing misanthrope that throws caution to the wind and has a would-be witty and sarcastic one-liner for literally every incident he finds himself in.  Watching a seasoned and acclaimed actor like Pearce utter such cookie-cutter and banal throwaway lines like (while on a rooftop) “Gosh, I hate heights” or (in reference to his mission) “don’t get me wrong, this is a dream vacation” is embarrassing to witness, perhaps only matched by the excruciating lack of chemistry between himself and Grace’s vanilla-bland, pure window-dressing good-will ambassador.  It's an initial kick to see a seriously cut Pearce – who usually inhabits stoic and reserved characters - play an action hero, but the script gives him no intriguing personality traits beyond those swiped from the action film cliché factory.  I’ve seen countless versions of the Snow character before in past films and done to much better effect; Pearce looks the part, but he just seems like an odd fit for it. 

The film also has visual effects that range from adequate to positively mediocre, so much so that many scenes in particular look like they barely have gone beyond the initial rough draft phase.  LOCKOUT does have some decent model work featuring the space prison, to be sure, but there are far too many other moments where its CGI artifice looks positively rushed and scattershot.  One specific sequence – involving Snow on a futuristic motorcycle running from and evading the authorities through a sprawling metropolis – is a visual and editorial disaster.  Not only does the effects work look utterly unconvincing, but the direction of the sequence by Irishmen James Mather and Stephen St. Leger with editing by Eamonn Power and Camille Delamarre reduces the action scene to an acid-trip-like flashy blur of indecipherable images.  Perhaps making the whole sequence borderline incomprehensible allows for it to hide the genuine lack of polish of the visual effects, but I would have at least forgiven the makers if they at made the action clear and precisely delineated. 

The film is also incredibly violent, but in contradictory PG-13 levels of bloodless mayhem (a film like this that has an eye for being a wanton gore-filled exploitation effort seems positively limp-wristed by its lower, teen friendly rating).  There are many moments involving Snow shoot, punch, and kick his way through Alex and Hydell’s rogue gallery of sadistic goons, but the villains themselves never really emerge as tangible threats to Snow, who is typically portrayed as a superhuman throughout.  Gilgun’s Hydell is perhaps the only actor that brings an unpredictable level of twitchy and overly anxious menace to his ape-shit-crazy convict, but when every other character around him is on insipid autopilot through the entire film, his efforts are almost for naught.

Maybe the worse sin that LOCKOUT commits is that it emerges as a real snoozer as far as action films go.  At just over 90 minutes, the film feels unexciting and boring too much of the time, which is largely attributed to the maker's inability to infuse a modicum of tension in the proceedings.  When the plot itself is not outlandish and plagiaristic enough, LOCKOUT then serves up insidiously cruddy banter and inert character dynamics that only accentuates the film’s sloppily constructed look and feel.  Ultimately, LOCKOUT is just ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK/L.A. in space and never fully comes off as an audaciously innovative take on its been-there, done-that material.  LOCKOUT barely achieves the dubious distinction of a forgettable and throwaway B-grade direct-to-video sci-fi auctioneer, which makes its theatrical release all the more head-scratching.  Just lock yourself up at home and avoid a trip to the cinema to see this film.  

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