Stop me if you’ve heard this one before – in a future America, an important member of the First Family gets trapped in an inventive super-max prison the likes of which we’ve never seen, and the only person who can save them is a sharp-tongued criminal. Sounds pretty familiar, right? Unfortunately, James Mather and Stephen St. Leger‘s Lockout is no Escape from New York, but dammit if Guy Pearce‘s performance doesn’t hit some gleeful Snake Plissken-inspired high notes in the midst of some serious cinematic mess.
Mather and St. Leger’s take (which comes from an original idea from co-writer and producer Luc Besson) on the “one man against a mega-prison” moves the action away from not just New York, but Earth itself – setting the majority of Lockout in a super prison in the sky. MS One is the first of its kind, a space prison that uses the unique advantages of its location to isolate its prisoners twofold – not only are they trapped in space, they’re also sunk into a deep stasis that should guarantee that escape is not only impossible, but also unthinkable to their conked-out brains. Unfortunately, as we’re told repeatedly, “some minds just can’t take it,” and the philanthropically-minded Emilie Warnock (Maggie Grace) has just arrived on MS One to interview some recently awoken prisoners to gauge the effects of their stasis. Emilie also happens to be the President of the United States’ only daughter, a fact that the audience knows from the get-go, even if MS One’s prisoners don’t.
MS One is inevitably taken over during one of Emilie’s interviews, thanks to a demented prisoner (a deliriously unhinged Joseph Gilgun as Hydell) who pulls a gun on Emilie’s bodyguards, seizes the prison’s control room, and wakes up all the other prisoners (including the eerily stoic Vincent Regan). While Hydell’s is takeover is confoundedly and confusingly complete (despite being the world’s most advanced prison, all it takes is one insane prisoner to break the entire system down), Mather and St. Leger fail to explain even its most basic mechanics – like how the hell did Hydell get a gun to begin with? It’s that sort of mess and confusion that clouds Lockout, big questions that impinge on its audience’s ability to just sit back and enjoy its attempt at B-movie fun. Silly is more than okay when it comes to a film like Lockout, but stupid is unforgivable.
Fortunately, Pearce’s Snow is lurking about to inject some old school action-comedy humor into the film, elevating Lockout from basic schlock to giddy cinematic fun with a constant stream of snappy one-liners and an irresistibly gruff charm. Recently convicted of murder and espionage, the former government agent is dispatched to MS One to save Emilie, both because he’s (apparently) the only man in the world who can rescue Emilie and because his former colleague (a more than serviceable Lennie James) lets on that the key to Snow’s freedom (his partner Mace, Tim Plester) has recently been sent to the big prison in the sky. To the space super-max we go!
Pearce is typically the best or one of the best parts of every production he’s in (including solid-on-their-own films like Memento and L.A. Confidential), but he’s in a completely different universe when it comes to Lockout. The film’s essential problem is a basic one – every single person in Lockout appears to be acting in a different movie, and the only one of those mental mini-movies worth watching is the one Pearce himself is acting inside. Swagger, gusto, sarcasm, and a gleeful sense of B-movie joy, Pearce’s tone and temperament are what make Lockout worth a watch, even if every scene without him is just silly and sloggy. Grace occasionally hits some interesting beats, and though she does seem invested in evolving Emilie into a more complex person, she’s out-acted by Pearce at every turn.
The rest of the film’s cast is rounded out by scenery-chewers and complete sleepers of the highest order. The ever-badass Peter Stormare is relegated to a role best described as “vaguely drawn possible bad guy on the inside,” a role so un-befitting of his talents that he appears to have revolted by doing as much snarling as possible when the camera is actually trained on him. Peter Hudson is particularly horrific as President Warnock, a small role that could have been played for some emotion (after all, it is his do-gooder daughter who is trapped in a space prison with 500 violent convicts) – instead, Hudson looks to have snoozed on it completely. A cardboard cut-out could have accomplished more.
Just about every misstep in Lockout feels instantly forgivable when Pearce pops up – the shoddy CGI, the loose vision of the future (fifty years on, and everyone is still dressed like it’s 2011), the misused supporting characters – but that’s not nearly often enough. Despite the fact that Pearce is the ostensible lead of the film, Mather and St. Leger spend too much time with the film’s other actors and refrain from fully giving Lockout over to the actor – the film’s most glaring mistake and the one that prohibits the film from ever being as fun much as Pearce himself seems to think it is.
The Upside: Guy Pearce’s performance.
The Downside: A messy retread of Escape from New York that refuses to acknowledge just how much it shares with that film; so many unanswered questions that it feels like a reel of the film got lost somewhere; atrocious acting from just about the entire supporting cast (save some nice moments from both Maggie Grace and Lennie James); horribly lensed CGI.
On the Side: Co-directors and co-writers James Mather and Stephen St. Leger often work under the name “Saint and Mather,” with Mather typically taking the reins on photography and lighting and St. Leger heading up writing and editing.