Framed for a murder he didn't commit and swiftly sentenced to 30 years in prison, things aren't looking good for Snow (Guy Pearce). There's a briefcase full of evidence out in the world that could clear his name, but in oder to get to it, he'll need to find some way to hook up with the guy he slid it to moments before he was arrested. Unexpectedly, opportunity arrives in the form of the President's daughter, Emilie (Maggie Grace)...unfortunately, taking advantage of said opportunity involves being dropped onto MS-One, an international outer-space prison filled with deadly convicts, in order to rescue her after a breach occurs and all 500-plus prisoners are released.
If Lockout sounds like a lost Escape From New York sequel, that's because it basically is, complete with a little wristband locator device telling Snow where his objective is. Hell, I wouldn't be surprised if co-director/co-writers James Mather and Stephen St. Leger (with an assist from producer Luc Besson) wrote it as a dream project and eventually just changed the names. As such, there isn't really anything here in the way of story, just a character for the audience to enjoy and things or people he needs to retrieve.
To that end, Mather, Leger, and Besson offer us Pearce, who is a surprisingly perfect fit for the pseudo-Plissken role. I don't know how serious viewers consider Pearce to be, but he's just so right for the smart-ass action type that it's hard to believe he doesn't have a boatload of Lockout-style action under his belt already, evoking a healthy dose of Bruce Willis in addition to Kurt Russell, along with his own matter-of-fact charm. His Snow is a hero so likable that the audience will even let him get away with punching Emilie in the face when they have to blend in among MS-One's general population. Grace and the dependably slimy Peter Stormare are decent, but only Pearce really manages to make an impression.
Mather and Leger's directorial style is, in a word, fast. Fight scenes display a disappointing amount of modern shaky-cam, quick-cut nonsense, but the pair take speed to a new level: an early and mercifully short vehicular chase is a mess of CG and weird speed-ramping that makes it look as if Snow's driving 200MPH, and a major moment near the end -- you'll know it when you see it -- features maybe the fastest journey of characters from point A to point B the movies have ever depicted. It's almost like Besson demanded the directors challenge American ADHD by trying to beat them to the punch.
Then again, this might also be a result of Lockout's one glaring problem: the PG-13 rating. Like Taken, another Besson production, the film was shot with bits of violence that would've landed the film an R in the States, and these moments have been unceremoniously hacked out, leaving a film that feels like it's missing the exclamation points at the end of several sentences. Lockout is an entertaining film, and in theory I'd like to see more of them (more of Pearce's Snow, anyway), but it's hard to recommend paying full ticket price to see the film when a better version is waiting in the wings. It's enough to move the film from popcorn fun to on-the-fence prospect, but viewers in the mood for dumb fun and one-liners could still do worse.
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