Monday, April 23, 2012

LOCKOUT: Guy Pierce Escapes From Earth

 LOCKOUT Review:

- Look, I love a great B sci-fi movie as much as the next fanboy. You don't get a lot of 'em anymore either - the sort of high-concept, low-to-medium budget action flicks that the likes of John Carpenter specialized in throughout the 80's. Not every sci-fi film has to be an Inception, you know? Sometimes you just want a badass, pulpy story where, oh, I don't know, a wise-crackin' antihero has to break into a space-prison to free the future-President's daughter from a bunch of nefarious cons. So yes, early trailers for Lockout had me pretty jazzed, and this was a movie I was predisposed to like. The oft-underrated Guy Pierce as a Snake Plissken-esque badass? Check. Produced by Euro-action master Luc Besson? Check. An outlandish premise that was blissfully unironic about its retro-cool space-prison setting? Check and check. Damn - I wanted this one to be awesome. But alas, it's only okay, and at times, a bit less-than-okay. There are glimmers of cool. But mostly, Lockout is pretty generic, and far more forgettable than it should have been. Stick with the likes of Doomsday or Daybreakers to get your retro-sci-fi/action fix.

Like I said, there's a lot of fun to be had in the premise of this one, with a concept that might well have been the plot of the long-rumored-but-never-materialized third ESCAPE FROM NY film. Basically, it's the future. And in the future - a classically dark, foreboding, and neon-colored future of the Blade Runner variety (with a bit of Besson-style Euro-grime thrown in for good measure) - some of earth's worst criminals are transported to an off-planet prison and put into stasis: alive, but asleep. Some humanitarians are skeptical of this practice, thinking that the induced stasis causes permanent damage to the prisoners' bodies and minds. One such humanitarian is the President's daughter - Emilie - who decides to visit the prison on a fact-finding mission. Of course, while she's there, all hell breaks loose. An unfrozen prisoner that she's interviewing breaks loose and frees his cellmates. Soon, the inmates are running the asylum, and the facility's staff - and Emilie - are their hostages. Enter the man known only as Snow - your classic dude with a 'tude, played with sardonic wit by Guy Pierce. Snow - a former government operative - had recently been arrested for murder (he claims he was framed). But in classic Escape From NY fashion, the government decides to cut him a deal: successfully complete a one-man-mission to break into the space-prison and free the President's daughter, and he's a free man (if he survives).

As Snow, Guy Pierce is pretty good, and it's a part that makes you wish he got to be in more action films, as he's clearly got a knack for playing the badass. That said, Snow as a character is fairly bland. In Escape From NY, Kurt Russell was able to take a fairly simple character in Snake Plissken and make him into an iconic, larger-than-life hero. But Snow has few defining features except for his perpetual smartassness - and even that can get sort of eye-rollingly lame at times. Sometimes, a European movie's odd lack of self-awareness can be charming. But the fact that Snow actually - unironically - wears a T-shirt that reads: "Warning: Offensive" is just a bit silly. This is the sort of character that might be cool as part of a team or something, but as a lone hero, he just doesn't give us enough personality to really root for him.

The movie's got a couple of other great genre actors who are unfortunately stuck with pretty flimsy and uninteresting characters. It was great to see Peter Stormare show up, for example, as a government official overseeing Snow's mission. But again, he just doesn't get to do or say much that's all that noteworthy. Same goes for Lennie James, as Snow's buddy who sets him up on the mission, but may or may not be working his own angles. James brings some acting chops that help elevate the role, but there just isn't that much to get excited about with his character. Maggie Grace of LOST and TAKEN fame at least gets to have some occasionally-amusing and semi-decent back-and-forth repartee with Pierce. But her character is a bit shrill - and it almost feels like the script has a slight disdain for her character even as it wants us to root for Snow to get the girl. Finally, Vincent Regan lends the movie some gravitas as the cold, calculating criminal who leads the prison revolt, and Joseph Gilgun is fun as his lunatic brother who just wants to incite total anarchy.

So yes, the movie has a pretty darn good cast - and that's probably, ultimately, what makes the film as watchable as it is. Even if Snow isn't going to set the world on fire and become the next cult action hero, Pierce is still quite good and makes the most of what he has to work with - and same goes for the rest of the film's actors and actresses. But from a story perspective, the film just never really pops. The premise is established quickly, and once Snow's inside the prison, there's a lot of repetition. A lot of crawling through grey corridors and taking out random badguys, a lot of Regan brooding and Gilgun frothing at the mouth, and a lot - a lot - of verbal sparring between Snow and Emilie (don't you get it Emilie, he doesn't care about anything or anyone!). Few of the supporting characters get a chance to shine, and the space prison - in theory an awesome setting for an action movie - quickly starts to feel like an endless series of same-y seeming corridors - it's like we've been transported into a 90's-era first-person-shooter game. Part of the problem is the pacing - long stretches go by where nothing much happens, and given the movie's simple story, it's way too long.

 At the least, you'd hope that things would be broken up by some kickass action scenes, but most of Lockout's action is pretty tame. One or two sequences stand out - there's one videogame-esque scene where Snow has to hover above a powerful fan in order to float over a giant chasm - while being attacked by a prisoner - that's pretty sweet. But mostly, the film doesn't have any particularly great or exciting action payoffs. The film throws in some Star Wars-style space battles to mix things up, but those feel so out-of-left-field that they're enjoyable mostly just as random visual coolness, but less so from a narrative perspective. The movie's direction is a mixed bag. I enjoyed some of the more ambitious sequences (a motorcycle chase scene is messy-looking but fun and fast-paced), but overall the movie lacked much in the way of style - with a cold, synthetic digital look that does, at times, make it feel like a series of videogame cut-scenes.

Lockout is a film that could have been really fun and really cool, but that just never quite comes together. Nothing in it is offensively bad, but the script is fairly unimaginative, and the characters are just not all that fun or memorable. Worse, what should have been a nonstop action-fest is oddly slow and boring at times. Fans of pulpy sci-fi may find enough bits and pieces of coolness to make this worth checking out, but I also doubt that this one is headed for cult classic status anytime soon.

My Grade: B-

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