Witty retorts have always been part of the Hollywood macho man’s arsenal (see every Schwarzenegger or Stallone flick). Unfortunately, the punch line spewing protagonist in James Mather and St. Leger’s Lockout stands as an obvious — and desperate — attempt to recreate the ‘80s action hero and nothing more. Co-written by Luc Besson (who, in one way or another, has brought us everything from “The Fifth Element” and “La Femme Nikita” to “Taken“), one of France’s most prolific filmmakers and Hollywood’s favorite producers, the movie revolves around a disgraced ex-CIA operative — known only as Snow (played by Guy Pearce) — being sent aboard a ravaged maximum security prison to rescue the president’s daughter, Emilie (Maggie Grace). What’s the catch? The facility is in outer space. Ultimately, the derivative and shallow dialogue fails to separate the film from B-movie clichés and weighs down an otherwise entertaining entry-level blockbuster.
The facility is M.S. One, and the convicted housed within are put under a controlled sleep for the duration of their stay, making the penitentiary free of rape, violence, or escape attempts. However, when Emilie’s research suggests that some individuals can’t handle the procedure (it results in lunacy), she requests to interview a few inmates. Among them is Hydell (Joseph Gilgun), who quickly uses the opportunity to take her hostage and free the rest of the criminals. With the government holding a false espionage charge against him, Snow reluctantly takes to the cosmos.
Despite its relatively low budget (and a blocky, poorly animated opening chase sequence), the effects in Lockout are tight and decently engrossing. Most of the movie was shot against a green screen and, fortunately, the inside of the prison — where most of the action takes place — looks vast and has enough variety to save the audience from becoming bored of the same grey walls. From an action perspective, the lack of shaky camera is a plus. That being said, however, I would’ve liked these shots to be less “tame.” The camera always cuts away after someone gets injured and the shootouts could’ve been better choreographed. Another downside is the lack of futuristic weaponry, which would’ve added much in the way of setting. Outside a couple of computer-generated buildings, Mather and St. Leger’s vision of the future isn’t a very robust or original. Nevertheless, the performances by Pearce, Gilgun, and Vincent Regan (who appears as Alex, a tough prisoner who takes the reign as leader) keeps moviegoers interested.
Pearce’s role is both underdeveloped and overwritten, yet the actor’s snide approach makes him a likable leading man. Beneath his roughness, Snow is incredibly honorable and that makes him easy to sympathize with. Meanwhile Hydell and Alex are ruthless making for a couple of foolproof antagonists. Consequently, this vagueness is sure to put off those looking for a character-driven thriller but, for others, it should make it easier to delve into the action.
Lockout is a matinee flick that’s both enjoyable and utterly forgettable at the same time. Built on the back of Besson’s clean-and-simple style, it’s a fantasy that never falls apart because of its reliance on familiar devices, themes, and ideas. But the clever concept is spread way too thin and the one-note characters keep the movie from reaching its true potential, thus lumping it with the thousands of other indistinguishable action movies.