It’s a good thing “Lockout” doesn’t take itself seriously, because this B-movie space actioner gets far more mileage out of its recycled plot, stock characters and tame shootouts by keeping a fairly tongue-in-cheek sensibility about itself.
Chiefly driving the entertainment value is eclectic and underrated thespian Guy Pearce, straight-up slumming here (and unabashedly loving it) as the stubborn, cocky ex-government agent Snow. The film opens with him hilariously not cooperating as he’s being interrogated about a high-profile deal gone wrong, and subsequently being framed for the murders committed there.
He’s sentenced to 30 years in the maximum security space prison MS One, although the prisoners seize control of the station right before he’s sent there. With the president’s daughter Emilie Warnock (Maggie Grace) visiting the facility on humanitarian business during the overthrow, she’s taken hostage and Snow becomes the only one who can possibly infiltrate the prison and rescue her in time. Since it’s the only way to earn his freedom, he accepts the mission.
Once onboard, Snow locates Emilie and the rest of the movie shows their struggle to make it out alive as they elude hundreds of rabid prisoners, particularly the cutthroat Irish leader (Vincent Regan) and his over-the-top, uncontrollable brother (Joseph Gilgun). However, while there are plenty of firefights, explosions and effects-heavy sequences throughout the movie, most don’t leave much of an impression.
In several instances it even seems like the writers and first-time directors, James Mather and Stephen St. Leger, just get lazy with the action sequences, not even attempting to make them relatively exciting. The closest they come is the first sequence, where Snow runs through how the big deal went awry and his destructive, video game-like escape.
Instead of the action, the inherent silliness of the on-screen situations tends to dominate. At times that’s just because of cheesy dialogue or over-zealous delivery (which Gilgun is repeatedly guilty of, making him more often cartoony than creepy), while sometimes it’s because the jokes are actually quite funny, and Pearce is consistently amusing.
Even when it’s not purposefully comical, the added humor still usually works in the film’s favor. Much of Snow’s interaction with Shaw (Lennie James) and Langral (Peter Stormare) produces laughs too, either because of how obviously cliché the characters are as Snow’s good cop and bad cop superiors, or because of the actors’ full embrace of their stereotypes. However, the climax to the movie is so completely ridiculous that it veers too far into camp for its own good, ending the film on a weak note.
Looking at it from a broader context, maybe “Lockout” is actually meant to be viewed as a pseudo-joke/homage. Although the other writer, Luc Besson, labels it as an original idea of his, the story is basically just the plot of cult classic “Escape from New York,” except transported into space and with the switch of the hostage from being the president to his daughter. Sure, it’s all completely derivative, but the film feels more like a tribute, albeit only a moderately entertaining one. Resetting beloved stories in outer space guarantees an improvement though, right?
Actually, the movie’s saving grace is Pearce, expertly spouting out wry one-liners and proving himself an excellent action hero. He clearly channels a combination of Kurt Russell’s iconic Snake Plissken from “Escape from New York” and Bruce Willis from “Die Hard,” with his personal charismatic charm rounding off his character. He’s most enjoyable and at his funniest in his scenes with Grace, and their chemistry is so strong that his teasing and bickering with her provides many laugh out loud moments. And Grace makes herself more competent in this role than most of her others, sporting a tougher, less annoying personality than in the past.
Yet despite how much fun Pearce brings to the proceedings, “Lockout” is supposed to be an action movie first and foremost, and it doesn’t impress on that front. If you came across it on TV it’d be worth watching, but with the new release “The Raid: Redemption” delivering one of the most exhilarating flicks in a long time, “Lockout” certainly isn’t the place to go for your action fix this weekend.
Two out of Four Stars