I’ll cut to the end: this is just a fun movie to watch. I don’t love it because it’s a good movie (it’s really not), I don’t love it because of the hot chick (there’s a million of ’em), because it’s original (it’s not even close ) or because it’s a sci-fi (though it is my favorite genre of film). I love this movie for one reason, and it’s the same reason that this movie is watchable at all: Guy Pearce.
For those unfamiliar with him, you need to see Memento. Rent it, buy it, steal it, do whatever you have to but watch that film, it’s fantastic, and virtually flawless. The movie is really good, but Pearce’s performance impresses you just as much. Maybe I’ll do a review of that movie someday, who knows. You may also have seen him without knowing it when he was in LA Confidential even earlier, another utterly excellent film from back in ’97. The problem is he wasn’t in much that was good after those movies, and he kind of slipped off the face of the earth. The Time Machine was a train wreck, The Count of Monte Cristo was okay at best, and he was really off the grid until appearing in the first several minutes of Hurt Locker, another great movie, and Best Picture winner of 2008. He’s been flirting around with stardom for a while, and in my opinion he’s one of the more underrated actors in Hollywood today. He’s the primary reason this movie is anything more than forgettable, and I hope to explain why in this review.
The film is directed by Stephen Saint Leger and James Mather. Two directors isn’t a great idea to begin with, but have you ever heard of either one? Not surprised, as this is the first film either one has *ever* directed. Luc Besson wrote the screenplay though, which should hopefully ring some bells. Besson’s a big-time French director, who makes by far the most American-style films of all the French directors I know. He’s done stuff like the original La Femme Nikita, The Professional, The Fifth Element, he wrote the Transporter movies, Taken, a lot of stuff. When you think Luc Besson think Steven Spielberg, or better yet Michael Bay. He’s not directing here, but I strongly suspect he’s the one pulling most of the strings.
Lockout takes place in 2079, and is about the kidnapping of the President’s daughter in an orbiting maximum security space prison. Pearce plays Snow, an ex-CIA operative who’s given the option of going in solo to rescue her to avoid a pretty unpleasant prison experience himself for a crime that–you guessed it–he didn’t commit. That’s really all you need to know. This movie isn’t big on plot and I’m usually a stickler for stuff like that, but in this case I don’t mind.
The movie opens up and our romance with Guy Pearce begins. He’s being interrogated and his answers are full of snark, delivered with an attitude that makes one not be able to do anything but smile and like him. He’s tied up and getting the piss beat out of him but he’s still having a good time. It’s the kind of scene that you’ve watched a dozen times, but Pearce makes it seem like you’ve never seen it before. Get used to the feel of a sci-fi movie that retreads stuff you’ve seen before though, it’ll keep happening for just about the entire 95 minutes.
Maggie Grace plays the President’s daughter, Emilie, and she’s going to visit MS1 (the orbital prison) to make sure the inmates are being treated humanely. It doesn’t take long for things to go south, and in an as unlikely yet predictable way as you’d suppose. Joe Gilgun plays Hydell, one of the convicts, and is the other highlight of this flick. He’s in a fairly large portion of the film and was well cast. His performance is psychotic, over-the-top, but while he is sadistic he doesn’t actually come across as truly evil for some reason. He’s just a little kid who’s having fun! I hope he gets more work, he’s eminently watchable. Maggie on the other hand seems to be insufficient to the role she’s given. You might recognize her from her role on Lost.
Even though Snow is condemned as a prisoner to go to MS1, the CIA convinces the President to send him in by himself to get the President’s own daughter out via an escape pod hidden on MS1. It makes about as much sense as it sounds like it makes, but hey it’s an action movie right? If it sounds vaguely familiar that’s because it’s essentially the same plot as Escape from New York.
There is a subplot here, and it becomes increasingly important as the movie progresses. Snow’s partner was killed because he discovered evidence of a CIA agent who was selling secrets of their space program. It’s also the murder that Snow is framed for. There’s a guy named Mace that Snow was able to sneak a briefcase to before Snow was captured, and we learn that Mace was captured and is on MS1 too. Ah. Additional incentive. Snow’s inserted into the prison and the rest of the first half of the movie switches back and forth between his search for Emilie and her plight as one of the hostages of the released prisoners. They don’t know who she is, but that can’t last forever can it? Vincent Regan plays Alex, the head honcho of the prisoners, and Regan does do a decent job in his role. There’s a couple of obligatory scenes where we see how tough and smart he is, but while he’s ruthless he doesn’t kill Hydell, who screws him up a couple of times. You find out why a bit later, and by then you’ve probably figured it out anyway. Heck you probably figured it out just by reading about it here.
Snow is on MS1 for a total of about 60 seconds before running into Emilie as she and a secret service agent are making an escape. He gets bonked on the head and then has to go rescue her from her escape because her brilliant bodyguard sealed the two of them in a room without thinking that there might be a problem with limited oxygen. Snow has several fights, some special effects and a series of one-liners that aren’t that good but he does the best any actor could do with them until he finally gets to Emilie.
The second half of the movie is Snow and Emilie on the run, trying to escape a ton of prisoners on MS1 while Snow is also trying to track down Mace. Not really a ton, the movie fails to capitalize on the scope of the prison like it could have. The action does become more interesting, which is good, but with Pearce and Grace on the screen at the same time it becomes evident that she just isn’t good enough to challenge him as an actor. Don’t get me wrong, Grace is the caliber of actor that B-movies like this usually get, so she’d fit in fine if she had a similarly-talented male actor to play off of, but Pearce is just too good. He plays Snow as a world-weary guy who really couldn’t care less about Emilie, he’s there to stay out of prison and to get to Mace. He doesn’t care about the rest of the hostages, and he certainly doesn’t care about what she wants, which is to rescue them. He overwhelms her, and while the dialogue is intended to make her driven, strong-minded and formidable enough to influence someone as jaded as Snow, you can tell that she isn’t. It’s the kind of acting dynamic that reminds me somewhat of the pairing of Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duvall in The Shining.
Snow patches her up, gives her the map to the escape pod and a shotgun then promptly abandons her to go find Mace, which I just love! It doesn’t last long, of course; Alex, the uber-convict, figures out who Emilie is. The dialogue is still occasionally painful, but there are some gems. Snow has to disguise her to sneak her past a bunch of murdering, horny inmates so he has her dress like one. She spots him mixing something.
Emilie: What is that?
Snow: Uh, engine oil, coffee, some water I just got out of the toilet.
Emilie: And just what do you plan on doing with it?
Snow: I plan on putting it in your hair.
I don’t know how it comes across in text form, but in the movie it never fails to crack me up, and it’s almost entirely due to Pearce’s delivery. Then to help complete her disguise he punches her in the face. I’m telling you, it’s gold! They take off to find Mace and when they do he’s kind of not all there. Whoops. The prisoners are after them and the tension and action are pretty good from here on out. Our directors feel the need to crank up the tension more by making the prison start to fall out of orbit, and Hydell gets more and more out of control. Then our government sends a bunch of planes to shoot the prison while it’s falling out of orbit. I’ll just cut ahead and say they get off the station, the mystery of who was selling information is uncovered, and the barely existent chemistry between Pearce and Grace is relied upon to provide the capstone of the denouement.
Overall this film is a bit of a mess. More of the dialogue and the one-liners miss than hit, and it’s pretty obvious a lot of the violence was toned down to give this movie a PG-13 rating, even though it pretty clearly would be happier if it was R. There are space fighter jets and futuristic looking motorcycles in this movie but honestly it doesn’t need them, and they feel unnecessary. The critics only had positive things to say about Pearce’s performance, and as I’ve indicated again and again, it’s the only real reason to see this movie at all. This flick would probably have been loads better if Besson would have directed it himself, but he didn’t. It’s extremely derivative, you can literally count how many times the heroes should have died, etc etc, so why am I taking the time to review it? Because I still like it! I’d give this movie 2 out of 5 stars (or 4/10) but for its intended audience it’s still fun to watch. Will this movie develop a cult following like Escape from New York? Nope. I, however, suspended the crap out of my disbelief from the first scene and let it take me on its ride. I can still watch that opening interrogation scene again and again. This movie is for fans of action/sci-fi flicks, Guy Pearce fans, or for watching together with a bunch of guys. If you’ve got free time and nothing especially great is available to rent that night give this a shot, it’s pretty fun. In fact, as a reward for reading this review all the way through, here’s a clip of the first five minutes from YouTube.