Sunday, April 15, 2012

Prisoners in Space: LOCKOUT

If you want to see a modern B-movie that feels half-heartedly assembled out of a jumble of influences (that sounds kinder than rip-offs without going so far as to say homage), you could do worse than Lockout. Of course, you could do better, too. It’s been cobbled together by the directors Stephen St. Leger and James Mather and their co-writer, French genre auteur Luc Besson, into something that could be called Escape from Con Air…in Space! (Or how about Die Hard on a Penal Space Station?) Anyways, it’s a futuristic hostage situation aboard an orbital prison. Even the main character, a sardonic, loose cannon special agent named Snow, seems derivative, a mashup of John McClane and Snake Plisken with a sizable helping of just about every Harrison Ford character.

Guy Pearce plays him as a wiseacre who barely seems to care that he’s framed for the murder of a fellow agent and, when the movie starts, is being interrogated by a puffy, goateed Peter Stormare. Turns out Snow might have a way out of this trouble coming right up. As he’s being beaten in an undisclosed location, the president’s daughter (Maggie Grace) is on a humanitarian mission to see if this whole space jail thing is on the up and up. A member of her security detail hides his gun rather than check it at the door, so it’s no surprise when a particularly creepy prisoner (Joseph Gilgun) manages to grab it and go. Somehow he can then single-handedly blow apart the security of the supposed maximum-security institution and release all his fellow nasty convicts to run amuck and hold the guards (and their presidential-adjacent guest) hostage.

So there goes Snow, rocketing up to the orbiting space prison where the plan is that he’ll sneak in, find the president’s daughter, and launch out with her in an escape pod. There are a few complications along the way to execute said plan, but it’s as straightforward as it sounds. Hostages are menaced, the law enforcement control room is filled with fretting and communication difficulties, and Pearce and Grace run up and down clanging gunmetal-grey corridors. Guns are waved, buttons are pressed, one-liners are wisecracked, and my interest slipped away. Sure it’s derivative and simple-minded, but the premise is good enough that Leger and Mather’s dull-but-frantic direction and the bungled script are still disappointing.

The idea of a prison in space is kind of irresistible though. I wanted to know more. At one point, a breathless tech explains that, since the man with the job to somehow keep the whole thing afloat has been killed by the escapees, the place is falling out of orbit. We’re treated to a scene in which the space station collides with the falling prison and rips open a wall, flash-freezing a prisoner caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. But why would you need someone to keep the thing in orbit? Surely by 2070, this is something that could be automated.

The prison is also equipped with seemingly automatic machine gun turrets that interfere with rescue attempts by an orbital police station. A portion of the finale is devoted to quick scenes of police spaceships zipping around the exterior of the space prison dodging bullets and returning fire, even barreling down metallic trenches to fire off missiles into the construction’s weak spot like it’s some kind of Death Star. Now why would the space station have this weaponized security system? We only see governmental spaceships in this movie, so there’s no reason to believe there’d be anyone attacking this thing from the outside.

But who cares, really? This is a movie that promises a certain modest level of dumb spectacle and serves it up. (Don’t even get me started on the climactic heavy-duty parachute scene, which is so stupid I kind of love it.) It’s mostly flavorless and sometimes confusing, but served up nonetheless. Characters don’t really come into focus. Beyond Pearce and Grace, it’s barely possible to tell the prisoners apart or to pick up on their strategy, let alone their goals or desires. How, exactly, do they plan on escaping? Who knows what they’re planning to do? Meanwhile, the agents feeding Snow directions just sit around wringing their hands and gathering their space fleet. It’s just tepid chaos on both sides battling around a space prison I could barely understand. The movie never sinks all the way to terrible, but can’t get up near good either. After a while I wasn’t watching it so much as simply waiting it out.


  1. Definitely not the most different or original sci-fi flick that's ever been made but it's still plenty of fun mostly thanks to the fast pace and Guy Pearce's awesome performance where he seems like he's having a ball every second on screen. Good review.

  2. If the movie itself had as much fun as Guy Pearce was having starring in it, I'm sure it would have been better.