Looking to action movies for intricate plotting and attention to detail is kind of like looking to a Justin Bieber song for nuanced lyrics and insight into the human condition – it’s just not something that anyone with any sense does. That said, there have been quite a few examples over the years of films that were able to both engage the brain and “blow stuff up real good.”
One of those films, John Carpenter’s Escape From New York, is clearly a favourite of directors Stephen St. Leger and James Mather (who co-wrote the screenplay with Producer Luc Besson) because its influence on Lockout is beat-you-over-the-head obvious.
Guy Pearce plays Snow – like Cher, he only goes by one name – an impudent, wisecracking super agent in 2079 who’s been falsely accused of a crime and is sentenced to serve his time on MS1, an ultra max prison housed in space.
Before he’s sent off however, a riot ensues in the prison after the hundreds of convicts (deemed the worst of the worst by the legal system) are suddenly awoken from their cryogenic sleep. The prisoners quickly (and laughably – whoever thought that a technologically advanced prison like MS1 would have such lax security?) take over the facility and grab themselves a handful of hostages, among them the President’s daughter Emilie (Maggie Grace), who’s there to investigate claims that the cryo-sleep makes the prisoners extra crazy. Uh oh, I guess someone’s going to have to break into the prison and get her out…
Snow agrees to the job in exchange for his freedom and is soon launched into the great beyond only to find himself face-to-face with the prisoners’ erudite leader Alex (Vincent Regan) and Alex’s psychotic, Travis-Bickle-wannabe brother (Joseph Gilgun) who have only just figured out that they have the ultimate bargaining chip hiding somewhere in the prison.
It’s up until this point that Lockout maintains a silly sense of fun, unfortunately as soon as Snow tracks down Emilie (who’s one of those in-name-only “feisty” dames who always needs to be saved by a guy), it all goes downhill. Any innate charm generated by Pearce’s devil-may-care insouciance is quickly curdled by the stereotypical movie couple bickering the two launch into almost as soon as they meet. Their near constant “I hate you, now kiss me” banter is enough to make you want to root for the orange jump-suited criminals instead.
There are a couple more aspects to the plot beyond the wretched flirting and PG-13 level fist-fighting — the prison also houses Snow’s former partner who has knowledge that will prove his innocence, there’s a traitor somewhere inside the CIA — but they’re handled with such disregard that they’re hardly worth discussing further.
What’s more, for the type of movie that Lockout’s meant to be, the action set pieces are surprisingly lazy, bizarrely rushed and irritatingly anticlimactic – hell, one of the big motorcycle chases near the beginning consists entirely of badly-rendered CGI footage that looks like it was snipped right out of an old video game.
Cinematic inadequecies of this sort can sometimes be overlooked when it comes to B-movies like this, because they’re mostly meant to be cheap, cheerfully dopey knock-offs of much better films. Unfortunately in the case of Lockout, that cheapness only highlights the film’s overall botched execution and general lack of inventiveness.
In other words: Snake Plissken has absolutely nothing to worry about.
While Lockout matches Luc Besson’s other film projects in its devotion to being nothing more than a slick, uncomplicated spectacle, the film’s ridiculously botched execution and lazy action sequences make it ultimately fall short of its outrageous concept and otherwise intriguing build-up.