Based on an original story by Luc Besson, there’s an embellishment. Lockout is from Besson’s production studio and the best way to describe it without going into the specifics is to say that it is a blend of Escape from New York, Alien 3, Con Air and Die Hard. Maggie Grace is Emilie Warnock, the president’s daughter and she’s on a humanitarian visit to the space station/prison MS One (Maximum Security) to investigate the effects of hyper sleep. As she is there something inevitably goes wrong, the prisoners break free and the president’s daughter is held hostage. On Earth, Guy Pearce is Snow, a rogue agent involved in a conspiracy. Getting caught by the government, he is eventually offered a bargaining chip to go solo into MS one, along with 500 violent convicts to rescue the president’s daughter. His promise to a dying friend and his freedom neatly coincide and an understanding is reached.
In Snow there’s a clear debt to the characters that Bruce Willis dominated for years, more notably giving just how similar the two films are there is a bigger debt to John Carpenter’s Escape from New York to the point where this could be described as the third entry to the series. Snow is Snake Pliskin; unfortunately Kurt Russell is too old to reprise this role so the best thing to do is to seek out new talent to fill that archetypal action hero hole. Of all the people who could be picked to fill this role Guy Pearce doesn’t even figure, still, here he is the star of Lockout. The man seemingly has no limit to his versatility, be it a trans-sexual, a king of England, a conflicted frontier man or Snow, a sarcastic, witty action hero traditional to the 80s and 90s ideal. Now having seen the film it is impossible to see anybody else in this role.
The rest of the cast is solid, even if dialogue exchanges are superficial. When Snow and Emilie meet, Snow cracks jokes and it’s only very occasional that they land. Pearce or Grace’s delivery cannot be faulted instead blame lies in the script, when it isn’t unfolding like a road map of recent action cinema history it lacks verve in the dialogue, conflicting the chemistry between the two leads.
Retro-fetishism is a theme of the film and it recalls the era of American cinema when British people were the best villains. Here we have two Scottish brothers played by Vincent Regan and Joseph Gilgun (This is England), the prior is the stern, violent and unpredictable archetype, and the latter is a highlight. He has a strong Scottish twang and is clearly relishing the freedom that comes with the unhinged younger brother.
On the space station and the streets of the cyber-punk city the action is visceral, fast and to the point. A result of the $30 million budget perhaps, but never once do the limited resources of the film affect the film in an adverse way. The film is never anything less than an action thriller should be its thrilling. Whether its story is derivative of already imitative films is irrelevant, Lockout at its best is great fun.
A major flaw in the experience comes from the post-production of which the CG and sound editing was main offenders. There is a sequence early on when Snow is evading a government agency after he is betrayed, when he is on foot the pacing of the film is wild. Then Snow finds something that resembles a bike, and then we are treated to a vehicular chase sequence which is a flurry of colours and shapes, nothing more than a mess. This isn’t because of the camera’s gaze being incomprehensible, refreshingly that isn’t the case, instead it’s because the action is so fast and the camera follows suit. It’s a blur of nothing and everything. Similarly a sequence in the final act should be something that thrills the action purist. Anti-climactic CG strike again as it’s over before it began.
Sound editing is like any editing, it is noticeable if it’s bad, excluding artistic expressions, of course. Lockout’s sound editing is not artistic. Every punch, gunshot and explosion is met with a suitably flamboyant thud. Its attempt to over emphasise the weight of a blow is transparent to the point of being unwelcome and distracting.
Co-directed by James Mather and Stephen St. Leger, Lockout is a solid stab at a retro action film. There are flaws, it’s stupid and it has some dire CG without the excuse of 3D. Yet it’s far more fun that it has any right being, Lockout is a trashy and dumb action thriller, exactly like those it draws influence from.