Movie Review: Lockout / Cert: 15 / Director: James Mather, Stephen St Leger / Screenplay: James Mather, Stephen St Leger, Luc Besson / Starring: Guy Pearce, Vincent Regan, Maggie Grace, Joseph Gilgun, Lennie James, Peter Stormare / Release Date: Out Now
In space, no one can hear you scream “But this is just like Escape from New York… but in space!”. It’s a trite observation but it’s also an unavoidable truth; the DNA of John Carpenter’s 1981 cult classic runs right through this unpretentious little shoot ‘em up and we wouldn’t be surprised to find that Kurt Russell’s Snake Plissken is lurking somewhere in the bloodline of Lockout’s anti-hero action figure Snow (Pearce) - and yes, we do find out his first name and no, I’m not going to reveal it here.
So does this sound familiar? In the year 2079 former Government agent Snow, falsely accused of a crime he - wait for it - did not commit, is destined to spend 30 years in cryogenic suspension in maximum security space prison MS-1 in orbit around the Earth. As luck would have it, the station’s security is seriously compromised during a visit by the US President’s daughter Emilie (Grace) when the cons wake up, go on the rampage and take control of the station. Laconic, wise-cracking Snow is offered his freedom if he’ll just nip in and rescue her. Before he can say “Hang on, isn’t this a bit like…?” he’s zipping up his spacesuit and he’s on his way.
Once aboard, Snow quickly makes contact with Emilie just as she’s about to die of oxygen starvation (the sequence which saves her life ain’t for the squeamish) and before long the reluctant pair are rushing around the station trying to find a way off whilst Alex (Regan), leader of the cons, his tattooed psychopathic brother Hydell (Gilgun from Misfits) and his sweaty band of misanthropic mercenaries try to murder them. In amidst all the shouting and shooting there’s a rather hazy subplot about the whereabouts of a missing briefcase which can vindicate Snow but it’s clear that this is just so much flabby padding and that directors Mather and St Leger are more concerned with keeping the action moving and putting their characters in constant peril.
To be fair, Lockout is an energetic and entertaining ride. Pearce, in his first proper SF role since the disastrous 2002 remake of The Time Machine, knocks Snow’s one-liners out of the park and manages to whip up a bit of understated sexual chemistry with Grace. Pearce is a surprisingly effective action man too and there are a number of set pieces which, if not wildly original, will at least hold the attention. Regan exudes brooding menace as the leader of the gang of cosmic convicts but the film misses a trick by denying him a proper full-blooded final confrontation with Snow. Although filmed before Misfits, Gilgun is channelling his inner Rudy as Hydell, wild and kill-crazy in contrast with his brother who’s ultimately no less ruthless but slightly more thoughtful and methodical.
In a multiplex era where blockbusters often weigh in at an attention-challenging two hours plus, Lockout rattles along and is done and dusted in just over 90 minutes - and, ironically, the film suffers a bit from its brevity. The pace is so breakneck it doesn’t give the audience a moment to catch its breath after one trauma for its characters before plunging them into the next. The conclusion is fudged, too; a dramatic freefall sequence is robbed of its potentially nail-biting drama by being over before it’s even begun. Lockout’s also a bit over-ambitious visually; an early CGI motorbike scene is horribly unconvincing and whilst the space station stuff is better realised most of the FX are pretty second-drawer and wouldn’t look too out of place in a bargain bin computer game.
Lockout’s too disposable to be either memorable or especially offensive. It’s creaky and clunky and deeply derivative but in some ways that’s endearing; it’s the cinematic equivalent of popping out to see an old friend and finding he’s had a haircut and is wearing a new suit. But deep down, it’s the same old person you’ve known for years. Lowbrow SF action-by-numbers then, but a brain-on-standby fun night out all the same.
Expected Rating: 6 out of 10