Lockout (2012) – Directed by James Mather and Stephen St. Leger – Starring Guy Pearce, Maggie Grace, Lennie James, Peter Stormare, Vincent Regan, and Joseph Gilgun.
LOCKOUT goes right into that batch of movies that I’m gonna talk up and keep talking up until everyone realizes how awesome they are. Films like Doomsday, Trick ‘r Treat, The Faculty, and Attack the Block that seem to have escaped your average fan’s attention. Films that didn’t do so hot at the box office, maybe didn’t even connect with critics, and still haven’t found a huge place in the hearts of fandom but that definitely deserve a better rep than they’ve got.
I love LOCKOUT. There’s nothing fancy here – it’s been rightly pegged as being highly derivative of John Carpenter’s Escapes from New York and Los Angeles films. Fine. Is that supposed to make me hate this movie?
I fully admit that when I saw the trailer for LOCKOUT I laughed at how dumb it looked. It wasn’t because I made the Escape comparison, too, but because it looked so cliche without any sense of humor or originality. But by the end of the trailer, the fact that the narrator had no sense of humor about what was going on kinda had me intrigued. Would Pearce really sign on to something this dumb? Had Luc Besson (who came up with the idea and co-wrote the screenplay) lost his marbles?
I didn’t manage to see LOCKOUT in the theaters, but Netflix finally delivered the Blu-ray and the film instantly won me over. While there’s nothing overly complicated or original about James Mather and Stephen St. Leger’s film, LOCKOUT contains plenty of smart dialogue, solid performances, and fantastic, old school action. Instead of feeling derivative of Carpenter’s Escape films, LOCKOUT feels inspired by them.
The film opens with Snow (Guy Pearce) being questioned by an unseen interrogator. Each serious question is answered with a smart-ass reply, which in turn is answered by a hard punch to Snow’s face. The interrogate is Langral (Peter Stormare), a Secret Service director who’s questioning Snow over the death of a CIA Agent he believes he saw Snow kill. Stormare and Pearce are both good actors and they don’t mail their performances in; Stormare is decidedly serious, slow, and gruff, and Pearce is his antithesis. It’s great fun watching them chew up the pulpish dialogue on display here. Lines that could be utterly dreadful and hokey in lesser actors hands actually sparkle with energy and conflict here. Exchanges like:
Langral: “Again, what happened in that hotel room?”
“It was coupon night and I was trampolining your wife.”
The bound Snow gets punched in the face.
Langral: “You’re a real comedian aren’t you, Snow?”
“Well, I guess that’s why they call it the punch line.”
Over and over Stormare and Pearce deliver these heated exchanges, and LOCKOUT quickly becomes one of those films you’d quote endlessly if you were seeing this for the first time in high school.
“Who was that on the phone, Snow?”
“His name was F*ck You.”
“Yeah, he was Asian.”
Snow talks this way with everyone, which keeps his character grounded at the center of the movie. Pearce sells his delivery every single time, too. It’s a very impressive performance in a movie that a good many actors might take just for the paycheck. When I saw the trailer, I wondered how LOCKOUT escaped the resume of Nic Cage, and how after somehow missing out/avoiding him, it ended up in Guy Pearce’s hands instead of, say, Jean-Claude Van Damme’s. That the lead actor here is above the Nic Cage Line instead of below it is a credit to the film’s ambitions.
(The Nic Cage Line – I just made that up. I am, in the moment, very impressed with myself.)
We’re in the future here, and there’s a massive Super Max prison in Earth orbit. On the day of our narrative, MS One is being visited by Emilie Warnock (Maggie Grace), daughter of the President of the United States. She’s concerned about the treatment of the prisoners on the station, as MS One puts all of its prisoners into stasis. (Which kinda raises the question, If you’re just going to put them on ice, anyway, why not just house them in Cleve Land or something. And that question kinda raises the answer, Would you rather watch a movie set in Ohio or a space station?) Something goes wrong with Emilie’s visit when prisoner Hydell (Joseph Gilgun) is taken out of stasis to be interviewed and he escapes. There is amazingly little security on MS One, as one prisoner with a gun is able to send the entire station into complete chaos. However long it takes to put someone into stasis, they can apparently come out of stasis in 14 seconds.
Hydell’s brother Alex (an excellent Vincent Regan) eventually takes charge and no one questions him because they know that would just be unnecessary plot stuff, and like us, they just want to get to all the shooting.
The prisoners don’t know that Emilie is the President’s daughter, at first, which gives everyone some time to get Snow on board the station. In Snow’s ear is Harry Shaw (Lennie James), who plays Good Secret Service Agent to Langral’s Bad Secret Service Agent, and helps direct Snow through the station.
Snow manages to find Emilie rather quickly, but she just thinks he’s another prisoner, so she smacks him in the face with a fire extinguisher and hides in a secure room with her bodyguard. Her bodyguard Hock (Jacky Ido) is the film’s biggest idiot. It’s his fault that Hydell managed to escape because he brought a gun into the interview room which Hydell picked, and when he locks himself and Emilie in that secure room, he shoots a control panel that starts pulling oxygen out of the room. They two of them are running out of air and on the verge of dying, and the script pulls out one old trick to heighten drama, and a new one to relieve it.
Harry is in Snow’s ear about how he has to get in that room or Emilie is going to die, and he’s literally counting down the time to her death. Apparently, in the future, they can predict your death by oxygen deprivation down to the exact second. Harry is counting down the seconds, and as Snow hurriedly tries to break into the room, Hock blows his brains out in order to allow Emilie to have more oxygen to breath. It’s not a very smart thing to do, given there’s a whole prison of crazy criminals trying to get into the room, but immediately after he offs himself, the techs around Harry back on the cops’ orbiting station tell him, “She just found some more oxygen! I don’t know how she did it, but it’ll only buy us a little more time!”
There’s all sorts of silly stuff like that peppered through LOCKOUT, but if that’s going to derail your enjoyment of a film like this, you’re probably not the kind of person who’s going to watch a movie like this, are you?
Once Snow and Emilie get together, it’s a whole lot of alternating between them bickering and them shooting. LOCKOUT moves really fast and keeps the tension high. There’s some predictable banter between them about how he’s the bad boy criminal and she’s the inexperienced rich girl, but both Snow and Emilie are deeper characters than the stereotype the other drops onto them. It’s little details like the fact that as bad-ass as Snow is, he hates heights, and he’s squeamish about having to put a needle in Emilie’s eye to revive her, that gives LOCKOUT that little bit extra that takes it from being just a really good action movie to something really engaging.
LOCKOUT isn’t a movie I’m now going to rush out and buy for $25 because I know and you know it’s only a matter of a few short months before the price drops to something much more reasonable. There’s not many movies I’m going to lay out $25 for, but this is an automatic buy when it hits the $10 rack. LOCKOUT is the kind of movie that restores my faith in storytelling. There’s no pretentiousness here but there is a whole lot of professionalism. It’s a smart, fun movie that just wants to keep you entertained for 90 minutes.
Which sounds an awful lot like a John Carpenter film.
Don’t avoid LOCKOUT because you think it’s a shadow of Escape From New York; watch it because it’s a fitting heir.