Movie Review by Dan Keohane
If you saw spaceships and space stations in the trailer and think it’s the newest cutting-edge science fiction movie…. save your money and come back on June 8th. LOCKOUT is not that. In fact, aside from the plot device of a prison break / hostage rescue drama in space, it’s far from science fiction. The science in this film is more the playing-with-action-figures type. Same with the overall plot. Silly, unrealistic and implausible on so many levels.
Still, LOCKOUT was a pretty fun movie. My sister Ellie and brothers Mike & Paul and I went into the theater (a matinee, cheaper that way) with the correct assumption that this film will not alter the state of anyone watching it towards an improved human condition. We assumed the movie would be, well, silly, unrealistic and implausible. And we were so rewarded for our faith. LOCKOUT is a hoot. Especially if you go during matinee time so you haven’t paid too much for the experience.
The best part of the movie? Guy Pearce (MEMENTO – 2000 and THE HURT LOCKER- 2008), as brash hero Snow, wrongfully accused of killing a CIA agent (or Secret Service, was never quite clear on this) in an operation gone awry. Pearce’s performance made this movie. His screen presence and delivery were on-target and entertaining from the opening scene, as his character Snow is beaten up during interrogation. He brought much to this role and was obviously having a blast all the way through.
Who is this Snow character? A 21st century version of Kurt Russell’s Snake Plissken, basically. LOCKOUT is a futuristic blend of ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK (1981) and DIE HARD (1988). Actually, I suspect it might have originally been intended as a remake of ESCAPE… but more on that in a moment. The premise? In 2079, Earth’s worst prisoners are sent to an orbiting space prison where they serve out their time in frozen stasis, sealed in a monstrously huge complex of MATRIX-like cryogenic units. The US President’s daughter Emilie, played by Maggie Grace (LOST – 2004 – 2010, MALICE IN WONDERLAND – 2009), is visiting the facility to investigate claims that: 1) prisoners are being used for experimentation to study the long-term effects of space travel, and 2) that the cryogenic process causes brain damage.
Before Emilie’s visit goes horribly awry, let’s go back to our hero, Snow, who has been arrested and convicted of treason during an extended flashback scene. During the double-crossed operation, everyone dies and Snow looks like a bad guy. He beats up a bunch of thugs (or maybe they’re agents, hard to tell) and escapes, talking to his mysterious partner Mace on the phone while driving a one-wheeled cycle through the city. The directors (James Mather & Stephen St. Leger, known previously only for short films) decided to use what I consider a cop-out visual technique of staccato editing to make the action seem frenetic but in fact all it does is make any fight scene unwatchable (though it saves on having to actually choreograph a legitimate fight scene). He escapes through the city by taking a shortcut through a TRON (the 1982 version) video game. At least it looked that way. I’m not a big CGI guy for how often it seems to be used these days, but if you’re going to have it, spend the cash and do it right. It didn’t look good here. The filmmakers did better later in the movie by applying old-fashioned miniature techniques for the ships and space station scenes. These looked pretty decent (visually better than the opening scenes at least).
Snow is caught, arrested and pulled out of his flashback. He is then prepped for his own incarceration in the floating prison. However, before they can ship him up, we return to First Daughter Emilie’s visit as it goes horribly awry:
While she interviews a twitchy, psychotic prisoner named Hydell (newcomer Joseph Gilgun, known mostly for the 2011 British TV show, MISFITS), Emilie’s hot-headed secret service agent (Jacky Ido: INGLORIOUS BASTERDS, 2009 and AIDE-TOI, LE CEIL T’AIDERA, 2008) gets too rough with the prisoner.
1) Manages to pickpocket the agent’s gun while cuffed to the table
2) Shoots the security guards
3) Accidentally hits.. something… which explodes and knocks the agent and Emilie unconscious
4) Escapes after shooting his chains off (I’ve always assumed this last part works without the bullet ricocheting into the shooter’s face only in the movies)
Hydell walks into the primary control room, gets the technician at gunpoint to open every sleeping pod (the technicians in this prison aren’t trained that they will die either way, so may as well not do what the escapees tell them).
Back on Earth, in order to keep the president’s daughter alive and the press out of the picture for the time being, the authorities decide to release Snow so he can rescue the president’s daughter and get her off the ship. This way they can then blow the station to smithereens with a clear conscience .
There you go. That’s the setup, and the rest is lots of shooting and shouting and sweating and running around (and around) the station trying to escape. It was actually pretty fun, and you as the viewer come out unaltered, aside from whatever physical damage the crap you ate during the hour and a half caused.
Like I said, if you’ve seen ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK or DIE HARD, you’ve gotten the gist of LOCKOUT. DIE HARD, because of the witty banter, grease-streaked sweat and ventilation spelunking.
Watching this movie, and even now, I wondered if the filmmakers originally intended to remake the popular 80s flick ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK—where the US President’s plane crashes in a New York City of the future which has been sealed off and used as a floating prison (sounding familiar?). Wrongfully accused hero Snake (even Snake’s and Snow’s names are basically the same) gets a chance at redemption if he goes into the prison city and saves the President. Same movie, really. Perhaps they decided the futuristic, crime-ridden New York angle has lost its edgy coolness in the wake of 9/11, or maybe they didn’t have the money to buy the rights for ESCAPE and still have enough left over for decent special effects. Probably a combination of the two.
Regardless, like Russell’s performance in ESCAPE, Guy Pearce made this movie infinitely watchable—aside from his looks and obvious charisma on the screen, his dialogue and delivery was brilliant (kudos to the writer/directors as well for this, of course). I have to admit, Grace’s run as Emilie was decent as a spoiled rich girl who can show her own chops when she needs to. She was good. The writing of her rather unrealistic role wasn’t the best, but better than some. 300‘s (2006) Vincent Regan as the uber-bad guy Hydell—no, not the twitchy one from earlier in this review, this is another Hydell. Looking like a pissed off version of Alec Baldwin, Regan came off fine as a tough-as-nails killer, concerned older brother (hence two Hydells), and quasi-brain-damaged moron. Not the brightest bulb in orbit, but brighter than most of the aimlessly shambling escapees. Aimlessly shambling is pretty much all they can do since they’re in space. Gilgun as the younger Hydell completely outshines Regan, though, as an impish trouble-maker who simply has to push a button and see what it does and simply has to shoot as many people as possible. His scenes were darkly comic and enjoyable.
Just because there’s so many of them, let’s talk about some of the silly things I made note of during the movie (aside what I’ve already noted above).
This space station seems to be designed with a critical fail safe: if you can’t get the ship’s computer system to do what you want it to – shoot the control panel. Voila, instant gratification! Oh, and if the hero is in dire jeopardy, the folks on the police station which is floating below the prison can save him using their own systems remotely – just try not to wonder why this movie is actually happening if the police can remote-control the prison from off-site. The writers obviously didn’t. . ..What else?….Oh, right! The workers at the police station all dress like New York City cops who hate federal interference and talk in a New York accent. I’m liking this movie more and more as I write this review.
The prison has this cool, Death Star defense system with gun turrets mounted everywhere, all completely automated and activated with a single button and able to decimate any invading fleet of ships. Because fleets of warships could invade a maximum security prison any time, right? All of the defenses are set up to keep people out of the prison. Based on how easy it was to break out of their cell pods, it was not designed to actually keep prisoners inside.
OK, now I don’t want to sound like a nitpicky sci-fi geek, but some of these goofy things were fun to notice and make note of. There were others, but I should leave some of them for you to wonder about (like why our heroes weren’t completely char-broiled near the end of the movie, or how they actually came upon Snow’s secret partner Mace mid-way through the film.. silly, but in a goofy fun way).
In the end, LOCKOUT is not going to be brought back in 10 years in limited 3D release as a celebration of its anniversary. But if you want a fun, action-packed movie with clever dialogue and every action trope jammed into the script, LOCKOUT is for you. If you enjoyed ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK and have been hoping for a remake, LOCKOUT is also for you.
For this crowd, I’d give it 3 Punches To The Face out of 5.
If you want me to rate it as a purely science fiction movie, it’s probably 1.5 Punches To The Face.
If you are eagerly awaiting the third season broadcast of DOWNTOWN ABBY, go rent ALBERT NOBBS (2011). LOCKOUT is not for you.
(Dan Keohane’s new horror novel, DESTROYER OF WORLDS, has just been released. You can find it here.)
© Copyright 2012 by Daniel G. Keohane