by Mel Valentin
It’s almost impossible to imagine anything more hubristic or comical than including a credit, not once, but twice that boldly proclaims, “Based on an original idea by Luc Besson,” especially when there's zero trace of originality to be found anywhere in "Lockout," a modestly budgeted sci-fi actioner filmed in Eastern Europe (Belgrade, Serbia to be exact) Besson co-wrote and produced. Besson and his two, heretofore unknown, collaborators, co-writers and directors James Mather and Stephen St. Leger, shot "Lockout" with the familiar mix of American and English-speaking European actors in the primary and secondary roles (non-speaking parts were filled with cheaply paid Eastern Europeans), ostensibly to increase geographic and demographic appeal. Little of that matters since "Lockout" fails on practically every level (i.e., writing, acting, directing) except, surprisingly enough given "Lockout's" budget, the space-set visual effects. We'll get to the earthbound visuals later.When we first meet the singularly named Snow (Guy Pearce), an ex-CIA operative, he’s exchanging faux-tough-guy one-liners with Langral (Peter Stormare), the inexplicably foreign-born chief of the Secret Service. Langral blames Snow for the death of another operative killed in a “deal-gone-bad” scenario. More importantly, Snow refuses to divulge the whereabouts of a missing briefcase (a.k.a. Lockout’s MacGuffin/object of desire). Besson, Mather and St. Leger seem to suggest that the justice system moves swiftly in the future. Within hours, an offscreen court convicts Snow of murder and sentenced to cryogenic stasis for 30 years aboard the MS-One, a state-of-the-art space prison operated by the U.S. government with the support of most, if not all, nation-states and at least partly financed through private sources (i.e., a military contractor).
"Not the 'Die Hard in Space (Prison)' you were hoping to see."
Before the Powers-That-Be can transport Snow to MS-One, a breakout/prison riot occurs, courtesy of mistimed bravado by a security guard sent to MS-One as part of a humanitarian mission led by Emilie Warnock (Maggie Grace), the do-gooder daughter of the president of the United States (Peter Hudson). A heavily scarred, tattooed, one-eyed, incomprehensible psychopath, Hydell (Joseph Gilgun), and his older brother, Alex (Vincent Regan), become the de facto leaders of the prison revolt. Rather than send in the equivalent of Space Marines or Navy Seals, the president allows Shaw (Lennie James), Snow’s former friend and current CIA operative, to convince him only Snow can safely rescue his daughter. Snow’s brief doesn’t include the other hostages, but Snow’s former partner and current keeper of the missing briefcase, Mace (Tim Plester), has been sent ahead to MS-One.
Little else remains except a mediocre, uninventive riff on Die Hard meets Escape From L.A.. Snow slips in to MS-One, the prisoners make unclear demands, kill some hostages to prove they’re serious (mostly offscreen as Besson tamped down Lockout’s violence to secure a PG-13 rating), Snows finds a still-alive Emilie, and their relationship (such as it is) predictably segues from combative to romantic. Add periodic set pieces punctuated by submachine gun fire (yes, submachine gun fire on an orbiting space prison), minor and major explosion, Snow’s increasingly tedious one-liners, cartoon villains, and an illogical assault on a fully armed space prison by dimmer-than-dim space pilots (presumably meant to emulate Star Wars and its countless imitators) in the third act, one or two perfunctory reveals of deception, and the result, even at an admittedly brisk 95 minutes (including credits), falls well below the “stupid fun” standard or bar that Besson set for himself and his collaborators.Apparently, "Lockout’s" script problems weren’t enough to dissuade Guy Pearce. Maybe Pearce saw "Lockout" as a lark, as a chance to take on a role he usually doesn’t get, the action-hero. Or maybe he wanted to play the lead as an action-hero parody. Given his arch, tongue-in-cheek line deliveries, the latter seems likely. No amount of effort on Pearce’s part or on the part of anyone else in the cast, however, could make up for [i]Lockout’s[/i] sub-banal dialogue. As much as Pearce and, to a lesser extent, Maggie Grace try to elevate Besson, Mather, and St. Leger’s dialogue, it rarely rises above the execrable. Everyone else in the cast doesn’t seem to care. They were in it for the paycheck and it shows. But just because they needed to make a mortgage payment on their condo doesn’t mean that audiences, specifically action fans, should continue to finance Besson’s increasingly inept attempts at moviemaking. If, perhaps, they didn’t, maybe Besson would leave the screenwriting to other, more talented writers. A critic can always dream.
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originally posted: 04/17/12 15:58:29