Silver Screen: Lockout **
The fast and cheap sci-fi action flick Lockout is oh-so-tenuously credited to Luc Besson, the director of classic shoot-'em-ups like La Femme Nikita and Leon: The Professional. The official designation is “based on an idea by,” which is just one short step away from, “One time we told Luc Besson we were going to make this movie and he kind of smiled and raised his highball glass our way.”
After a brief stint as the wunderkind of European action films, Besson has transitioned to action-movie impresario, running a production company that seems to crank these things out by the dozen, nine or so of which star Liam Neeson. He has twelve writing credits since 2007 alone, so it's tough to say how involved the Fifth Element creator truly was.
It's a shame someone a little more meticulous didn't oversee Lockout, which takes a fun, pulpy premise and turns it into mush. It's still a little more fun than any movie this bad has a right to be, mostly thanks to overqualified star Guy Pearce and some enjoyable over-the-top performances from the villains, but the filmmakers insist on testing viewer patience and willingness to indulge in stupidity.
Pearce's character is a wisecracking tough guy so cliché d that the running joke about him refusing to share his name almost becomes prescient. Known only as Snow, he's a former CIA agent set up as a patsy during an undercover operation circa 2079. In lieu of a harsh sentence, he's given the option to undertake a probable suicide mission to rescue the president's daughter Emilie (Lost's Maggie Grace), who is trapped on a rioting prison orbiting in outer space.
But wait, you might ask yourself, wouldn't it be prohibitively expensive to build a massive space station just to house prisoners, much less the cost of transporting them via shuttle? That's just one of the many glaring plotholes never addressed by Besson or screenwriter/directors James Mather and Stephen Saint Leger. Lockout is a veritable case study of the phenomenon of solving a complex problem with a single line of dialogue, only it's a study in failure.
Take, for instance, a fairly standard-issue scene in which Snow must leap a great distance over a whirring, deadly engine to a door on the other side. How can he possibly make this jump? Don't worry: His right-hand man (Lennie James) tells him, “The gravity generated by the engine will hold you up.” Except the only thing gravity does is pull toward the surface-- just as easy to get it right as to get it wrong, and no more ridiculous-sounding, but that's yet another example of Lockout's blatant laziness. (Gravity is a problem at large, recurring again when two characters don special suits and step out of the prison into space-- and immediately begin falling toward the Earth.
More laziness: One character refers to a Prince song, which would essentially be like making a pop-culture quip about Irving Berlin right now, when another describes someone as “like a Sherman tank,” which in an era of Star Wars-style dogfights in space should actually be something of an insult.
Of course, you don't go to a movie like Lockout for consistent writing or cogent storytelling-- you go for action. Unfortunately, the fight and chase scenes, of which there are no shortage, are only intermittently exciting. A decent brawl might immediately give way to a lazily choreographed action setpiece that shows all the seams in the movie's computer-effects-heavy approach. One chase sequence on a motorcycle would be embarrassingly choppy and blurred by Playstation II standards.
As modern-day B-movie entertainment, it's moderately effective, minimizing the talking and feigning toward some social criticism (privatized prisons! government collusion!) on the way toward blowing stuff up. Sometimes stuff does blow up, and it blows up real good, too, and that's neat-o. Otherwise, the movie is mostly Pearce trying to quip and sweat his way through the Die Hard formula while Grace does her best not to be too annoying playing a character whose repeated refusal to listen to logic or take basic direction costs innocent lives and drags out the plot.
Beam me down to Redbox, Scotty.
Follow Bryan Miller on Twitter@bmillercomedy.