I saw Lockout less than 72 hours before sitting down to write this review and I already feel the details slipping out of my mind. As popcorn fare, it’s utterly disposable: evaporating the minute the credits start to roll. Luckily, it also comes from Luc Besson – as potent a purveyor of cinematic junk food as you’re likely to find – and the two freshmen directors understand his ethos without having to be told twice. That auteurial stamp spells the difference between “a forgettable good time” and simply “forgettable.”
While we’re tossing names around, I might quietly mention John Carpenter, whose Escape from New York serves as obvious inspiration. He hinted at a second sequel to that film, Escape from Earth, and had it ever been put into production, it might have looked a lot like this. 65 years in the future, the United States has solved the prison problem: a giant orbital space station keeping hundreds of the world’s most dangerous psychopaths in cryogenic storage. Breaking out means a spacesuit and/or a way to traverse hundreds of miles of vacuum safely, making it just about foolproof.
Naturally, all that goes out the window in the first fifteen minutes, as criminals take over the station and the president’s daughter (Maggie Grace) gets taken hostage. It’s up to wisecracking CIA Agent Snow (Guy Pearce) – wrongfully convicted and due for a stint in the prison himself – to break in and save the girl. The impregnable fortress quickly becomes eminently pregnable, thanks to the expected array of abandoned ducts, empty corridors and airlocked doors overridden with a few hasty clicks of a keypad. That leaves only a faceless array of bad guys to vanquish, a predictably feisty girl to woo, and a bunch of stuffed shirts in the front office to depants with the power of a heroic sneer.
Actually, there’s a little more to it, namely a totally superfluous subplot involving hidden traitors and secret agendas and a briefcase full of Marcellus Wallace’s soul or something. It clutters up the beginning and end while only providing a little bit of character justification in exchange. (Snow agrees to the mission just so he can talk to some guy inside the prison who knows where the briefcase is and zzzzzzzzz…). Movie like this never benefit from too much plot, but Lockout can’t resist it and the mistake proves severely problematic.
The film also loses points for nakedly pandering to a PG-13 rating. An R-rated version clearly exists, with plenty of creative mayhem shots mysteriously (and rather crudely) excised from this version. We wouldn’t feel the absences if they took a little more care with the final cut, but watching the obvious money shots fail to materialize is actively painful. This movie needs a few over-the-top kills: exploding eyeballs, steam pipes through the chest, the occasional reproductive organ frozen to the side of a bulkhead, etc. Market wussiness denies us these treats… and if you can’t expect them in an effort like this, then cinema really is dead.
Amazingly, however, Lockout actually rebounds from those flaws. Directors James Mather and Stephen St. Leger retain the earthy pleasures of a badass shooting horrible creeps in interesting ways, mostly by thinking up new ways to deliver the goods. They subvert our expectations just often enough to sell the product – not necessarily brilliantly (certainly not with the masterful Cabin in the Woods opening the same day) but at least with some effort. Pearce helps out a great deal in that regard, pegged here seemingly because Hugh Jackman was busy, but thoroughly enjoying the outing regardless.
Perhaps most importantly, Lockout gets the joke. Composed of seemingly one cliché after another, it embraces its own ridiculousness rather than hide from it. Everyone involved keeps their tongue firmly in their cheeks, and if they don’t break any new ground, at least they go over some old ones with an eye on why we found it all enjoyable in the first place. Make no mistake: this is a guilty pleasure of the highest order, and if you have a better option you should definitely run with it. But the emphasis is on the “pleasure” rather than the “guilty,” and since it makes no apologies for what it is, neither should the viewer regret the utterly disposable entertainment on display. Luc Besson is pretty good at that; judging by the film here, his protégés have taken the lesson to heart.