It’s fair to say Luc Besson has gotten a bit giddy ever since “Taken.” The man who once upon a time brought us “La Femme Nikita” and “Leon: The Professional” has instead taken to lighter action fare, in this case recruiting amateurs James Mather and Stephen St. Leger to help write and direct his “original idea.” Exactly—not a “story by” credit, but “original idea.”
That’s not to say “Lockout” isn’t creative, but it’s definitely not original. Some might dub it “Taken in space,” especially considering it borrows that film’s starlet in Maggie Grace, but it’s much more akin to “Escape from New York in space.” Either way, “Lockout” is another simple-concept action film from Besson, only it has a bigger ego that gets in the way sometimes.
“Lockout” is good for kicks, a fact of which it’s very aware. Guy Pearce’s Snow, the morally questionable and reluctant hero written so closely to the archetype he almost transcends it, weirdly. He has a sense of humor best described as abundant (though sometimes quite clever), and Pearce plays him especially wry; most actors (think Nicolas Cage) would’ve hammed it up too much or been unconvincing.
Snow is tasked with rescuing the president’s daughter (Grace), who is stuck on a maximum security prison in space that has incurred a major security breach. These are the world’s most dangerous criminals, plus they have been in stasis for any number of years, which has made them even nuttier. Joseph Gilgun as Rydell, one of two Scottish prisoners trying to run the uprising, is a particularly deranged fellow reminiscent of a demented Groundskeeper Willie.
Both Rydell and the other main baddie, Alex (Vincent Regan), have a cold-blooded edge that could have made for an effective R-rated ransom thriller reminiscent of late ‘90s films like Air Force One, but the devil-may-care attitude of the entire movie ultimately clashes with these darker moments, even though they do make you take the movie more seriously than you would otherwise.
After a little bit of context at the beginning to properly motivate Snow, both he and us are effectively shot from a canon. The story only slows down a bit toward the end, but it mostly plays out as a series of dominoes. The action doesn’t satisfy so much as the pace and the threat of violence (now here’s a good example of how you do PG-13 violence), but it’s well done aside from an opening motorcycle sequence shot on green screen and outfitted with an effects job that really shows the budget.
Aside from that, the futuristic sci-fi elements stay pretty classy—nothing overdone or distracting. The gadgets provide some creativity to a number of the sequences and the script manages to inject some unpredictability into a story that could not have a more obvious trajectory.
Despite the self-awareness at points, with a lot of that credit going to Pearce, Lockout tries especially hard to be entertaining on too many fronts, aspiring to be the consummate popcorn flick rather than just identifying one tone and sticking with it. The final scene on the space prison strangely evokes the original “Star Wars” Death Star run, as if to make sure the audience gets to munch on some sci fi/fantasy before the credits roll.
It’s hard to fault “Lockout” for aiming to please considering that that spirit seems to be the driving force behind the movie’s strengths as well as its weaknesses. Although the number of attempts at humor might catch some folks off guard, “Lockout” offers what anyone interested in the film would expect, if for no other reason than its built upon tons of tropes from previously effective movies. In turn, “Lockout” is effective, but not too much more.
Directed by James Mather, Stephen St. Leger
Written by James Mather, Stephen St. Leger, Luc Besson
Starring: Guy Pearce, Maggie Grace, Joseph Gilgun, Vincent Regan