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The end credits claim that Lockout was “based an original idea by Luc Besson.” Well, I know exactly what that French action fetishist’s idea was and it ain’t that original. The man behind The Professional and La Femme Nikita was clearly sitting around his mansion one day and decided, “wouldn’t it be cool to do Escape From New York, but in space?” That’s Lockout, only clearly not nearly executed as well as Carpenter’s 80s classic because these days the once brilliant action orchestrater Besson can’t even be bothered to step behind the camera himself.
Instead, he just hires cheap writers and French commercial/music video directors to do it for him. Every now and then a great little B-movie slips out of this Besson’s action movie factory like District B13, but Lockout sadly isn’t one of those. Yes, it shares the goofy, unpretentious Eurotrash aesthetic of all Besson-produced flicks and can’t exactly be described as boring. But despite the fast pace, escalating action, and occasionally clever writing, it’s ultimately a derivative and predictable sci-fi action movie offering nothing remotely new or exciting for fans of either genre. Lockout is hardly a painful watch, but it will have vanished from your memory once your ass is barely an inch off the theater seat.
Guy Pearce stars as Snow, your typical action movie badass who speaks in entirely in one-liners and doesn’t take attitude from anyone. He opens in the film in the middle of an intense chase over a suitcase that sees him end up in the custody of snarling futuristic detectives. Oh, they try to beat information out of him, but all they get are sitcom-level jabs and mockery in return. Then something crazy happens. The president’s daughter visits a maximum security space station prison convinced that the prisoners are being used for cruel scientific testing. Turns out they are and as a result they have a riot and take over the prison. Of course, the prisoners don’t know one of their hostages is the president’s daughter, but the government does and they need someone to bust in to break her free. Only one man is insane enough for the job, and for some reason that man is Snow. Apparently a prisoner onboard knows something about this mysterious suitcase, so he agrees to go in and get the president’s daughter simply to try and find his incarcerated buddy. You can imagine where things go from here if you’ve seen Escape From New York, Die Hard, or any other one of the dozens of movies to shuffle onto screens since the 80s where one man must take down a group of bad guys who have taken over a building, prison, space station, public school, etc.
Yep, the premise of Lockout is fairly hackneyed. The only silver lining being that we haven’t scene one of these movies in quite sometime. In the 80s Cannon would have cracked out a few flicks like this a month, in the 90s the script would have gotten through as long as Steven Segal or Chuck Norris said yes. These days, this type of thing is rare and there is some fun to be had in seeing the old traditional action tropes get trotted out again. While Besson can’t always be counted on to come up with the most original premises for his French action movie factory, he does still have the ability to dream up a decent set piece and knows who to hire to make his low budget genre movies look fairly slick. Co-directors James Mather and Stephen St. Leger pile action and special effects sequences ontop of each other in such quick succession that they hope the audience will be too distracted to think about what they are actually watching. They almost succeed. The movie definitely races by and features some memorably insane and amusingly heavily accented Scottish villains in Joseph Gilgun and Vincent Regan who seem to get more insane every few minutes, as well as a pretty evocative space prison setting. Unfortunately there still have to be heroes and a story and that’s where things fall apart.
Snow just isn’t a compelling action antihero like Snake Plissken as the writers and directors so clearly intended. He doesn’t have an amusingly amoral and self-serving personality, he’s just given sarcastic lines for every situation. That’s kind of funny and first when the police and trying to beat a confession out of him to no avail, but when it becomes clear that will be the entirety of his character and the oneliners won’t improve, he merely becomes annoying. Guy Pearce is certainly an unexpected choice for the role and he’s a strong enough actor to make the character worth watching, he just runs out of places to go very quickly. Like all Luc Besson joints, the movie also features a gorgeous 20-something model/actress who he clearly hired for reasons other than acting ability. In this case it’s Maggie Grace as the president’s daughter. She provides plenty of sex appeal, but unfortunately she’s also asked to trade barbs with Snow and deliver exposition despite only being capable of looking pretty. Some day Besson will come up with a female action lead who doesn’t have to do anything but where skimpy costumes and carry a gun without concern for speaking and characterization. When that happens, his predictably bland female casting choices will finally work. Until then, every movie he produces will have a beautiful black hole has the lady lead.
Now, while Lockout will never, ever be considered a genre movie classic, it will please undemanding action audiences well enough. It’s at least unapologetic about being B-movie trash and delivers all the action/sci-fi beats promised on the poster with some great visuals and a few stand out set pieces. It’s nothing special, but it gets the job done quickly and efficiently. While plenty of crap might come out of Besson’s action movie industry ( From Paris With Love, Colombiana, Transporter 3, etc.), he at least knows what his audience wants. His movies keep making money for a reason. The guy follows the Roger Corman school of exploitation filmmaking to the letter: find a profitable genre, keep the budgets low, constantly seek out new directorial talent, sign up one B-level celebrity per picture, and you’ll always turn a profit and maybe even crank out the occasional genre gem by accident. Lockout at least does everything competently even if it never excels at anything. B-movies are supposed to be disposable trash after all, and there’s nothing wrong with modestly enjoying the cinematic equivalent of a greasy McDonald’s cheeseburger that’s been sitting under the heat lamp for too long every now and then. Lockout will at least provide some stale empty calories.