From a stuffily critical perspective, Lockout is utterly ridiculous. But then again, it’s a movie designed from the ground up to be big, over-the-top and highly entertaining: it’s a sci-fi action flick for geeks raised on such fodder, and eagle-eyed fanatics will spot references here from action cinema of every kind.
The story and its laconic hero are straight out of Escape From New York and its sequel. Its one-liners and duct-crawling moments of suspense are clearly inspired by Die Hard. The bickering chemistry between Guy Pearce’s hero and Maggie Grace’s imperilled president’s daughter Emilie Warnock recalls Romancing The Stone. There’s even a late one-liner that appears to be borrowed from the 1986 Stallone flick, Cobra.
Pearce plays Snow, a disgraced ex-CIA operative who’s as unreconstructed an action hero as you’ll find outside The Expendables. He smokes (even though it’s 2079 and nobody lights up anymore), he’s embittered and cynical, and he has his own personal almanac of withering quips and put-downs (“Who cut the transmission? Maybe it was the little transmission fairies”).
Accused of a crime he didn’t commit, Snow’s about to be put to sleep and shipped off to MS-One, a revolutionary prison-in-space where its inmates are kept in an experimental form of suspended animation. But before Snow’s term can begin, an action movie suspense situation develops. The president’s daughter, while on a visit to the facility, is held hostage by vicious inmate Hydell (Misfits‘ Joseph Gilgun). And giving the prison’s tiny security team no time to respond, he thaws out the remaining 499 frozen inmates, including his glowering big brother Alex (Vincent Regan). And thus the ransom demands begin.
In true Escape From New York style, Snow is ordered to sneak onto the MS-One and get the president’s daughter off the station in an escape pod. Snow reluctantly agrees, partly because he knows the MS-One is also home to a prisoner who may be able to help him clear his name. Naturally, things don’t go exactly according to plan.
If Lockout’s premise sounds like a boiling pot of ideas from other movies, none of this matters once the theatre lights go down. Pearce is perfectly cast as Snow – to the extent that it’s a mystery why no one’s thought of putting him on a weight-lifting plan and casting him in an action movie before. He doesn’t get to perform the sort of high-wire feats of agility that Jason Statham does in his Transporter movies (which producer and co-creator Luc Besson also has a hand in, of course), but Pearce carries the entire film with his sarcastic charm and sheer charisma.
Regan and Gilgun are good value as a pair of raging, Scottish sci-fi villains seemingly teetering over a pit of madness, Peter Stormare’s on form as a terse CIA agent, and Maggie Grace is perfectly fine as the idealistic Emilie, but this is undoubtedly Pearce’s movie – and the writers give him almost all the best lines. His incredulous, “I’m being beaten up by a guy called Rupert?” is one such corker.
In their feature debut, directors Stephen St Leger and James Mather tell their story urgently and with brio; on a budget of just $30 million, they’ve managed to bring to the screen a staggeringly broad range of action scenes and visual effects. There’s an Akira-inspired early bike chase, a memorable zero-gravity punch-up, and a brief yet exhilarating Star Wars-style dogfight between military space fighters and station-mounted laser cannons.
If you wanted to pick at the film’s faults, there are some to be found, admittedly; there’s a moment towards the end which some viewers may find a little too outlandish and bizarre, but I can’t detail here, and it has to be said that in terms of stunts and set-pieces, Lockout couldn’t be described as original. But as is often the case with relatively low-budget movies, Lockout lacks the two-hour-plus bloat of its Hollywood rivals, and it’s the film’s pace, good humour and infectious enthusiasm which lifts it from being just another throwback to 80s and 90s action movies.
And on the subject of action movies, Lockout is the latest in what could now be described as a European renaissance for the genre. Besson’s The Extraordinary Adventures Of Adele Blanc-Sec was inarguably as good natured and fun as Spielberg’s Tintin, but made on a fraction of the budget, and with movies such as Taken and the Transporter series mentioned earlier, it seems that Europe really is the territory to look to for unpretentious and exciting action films.
If Lockout were a Hollywood blockbuster, in fact, its high-concept pitch would probably be ‘Taken in space’. And if that film’s pace, action and unapologetically crazy story entertained you, then you’ll almost certainly be thrilled by Lockout.