Guy Pearce - Action Star. If that phrase doesn't get you unreasonably excited then Lockout won't do much for you. On the other hand, if you are prepared to watch the immensely talented actor gleefully take on a role that shoots way below his skill level in a perfectly entertaining B-grade actioner, then step right up.
The film opens in 2079 where Pearce stars as Snow (never mind his first name), an Ex-CIA operative who is accused of killing a high-ranking official while committing espionage. His interrogation at the hands of a predictably sinister Peter Stormare doesn't go too well. Pretty soon it becomes apparent that he only has one shot at freedom. You see, the President's daughter Emilie (Maggie Grace) has just been taken (Get it? Maggie Grace...taken...nothing?...fine, be that way) on board a space prison. She was there on a humanitarian mission to check out the living conditions of the inmates when an impromptu prison break left her in the clutches of some unsavory types (Vincent Regan and Joseph Gilgun). All Snow has to do is shimmy his way onto the space station, locate Emilie, give her captors the slip and send her to safety in an escape pod before the prison is blown to smithereens by military forces (never mind the other hostages).
It's a simple concept that feels like it has been done before...because it has. I'm not the first guy to point this out but the blatant similarities to Escape from New York are...well...inescapable. Lockout tries to assert its own identity by pushing the setting into the final frontier of space but the source of its inspiration looms large. Thankfully, Guy Pearce proves to be an excellent spiritual successor to Kurt Russell. Replace Plissken's growl with a knowing smirk and a dash more charm and you get something resembling Snow. That's not to say that Snow has been neutered. He will hit a woman (for her own good of course). The fact that he's a bit squeamish around gore and nervous about heights doesn't stop him from laying down the law when necessary.
This is a Luc Besson production and it shows in every frame of the narrative. The high-concept story is draped across a series of setpieces. While most of them involve Snow and Emilie making narrow escapes from the goons chasing them, a few feature Snow tackling his attackers head-on. A sequence of close-quarters combat kicks off the film in kinetic fashion but my favorite bit has Snow tangling with a prisoner in a zero gravity chamber. Both fighters float through the air contorting their bodies and exchanging blows in a display that is viscerally thrilling but far too short. I may have invoked Besson's name first but credit has to go to the directing duo of Saint & Mather who keep the proceedings lean and mean. They approach Snow's mission like a video game with levels that have to be cleared (first the general containment zone, next the high radiation area). Some may roll their eyes but I think it goes a long way towards keeping the limited environs of the prison fresh and exciting.
I've already praised Pearce but it bears repeating. He is easily the best part of the movie. In a lesser actor's hands, Snow would have turned into caricature and sunk the whole enterprise. Pearce always keeps the onscreen events interesting and watchable. His charisma shines through in the incessant wisecracks even when Saint & Mather don't always give him great material to crack wise about. Maggie Grace also comes through unscathed. Emilie is more than your traditional damsel in distress given how much moral authority she carries in the climax besides playing a pivotal role in clearing Snow's name. Grace convinces us of her character's tough exterior without betraying her sensitive core. Regan and Gilgun prove merely sufficient as the film's villains although Gilgun had me a bit concerned that he would choke on some of the scenery that he was busily chewing from start to finish.
Lockout isn't especially challenging. Heck, it's not even all that smart. It is, however, a boatload of fun. It sets fairly modest goals for itself but achieves them with efficiency and unflagging energy. I'm not sure if the film was conceived with franchise potential in mind, but as long as Pearce is game, I'd be happy to follow Snow's continuing adventures.
The film is presented in a 2.40:1 aspect ratio with anamorphic enhancement. This is a modern action film with prominent science fiction elements so it's no surprise that the image is sharp and clear. There are times when the overall sharpness actually works against the film since it makes the occasional CGI-laden soft shot (like an early motorcycle chase) feel like it belongs in a different film. With that said, the flesh tones are accurate and the beaten up, metallic interiors of the space prison look sufficiently grimy. Other than a bit of banding during the sky diving finale, I didn't notice any major defects.
The audio was presented in a 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround mix with English, Spanish and Portuguese language and subtitle options. From its opening moments, one thing is readily apparent: this is one hell of a lively mix. The action elements are front and center without drowning out the dialogue. Bullets and wisecracks are shot out with ferocity and land with equal impact. Explosions abound giving the rear surrounds a solid workout. I don't think folks will find too much to complain about when it comes to this audio mix.
There are only two featurettes to be found here. Breaking into Lockout (11:07) is a making of piece that gives us interviews with co-director Stephen Saint Leger and cast members Guy Pearce and Maggie Grace. The tone is kept informative but irreverent as everybody has fun talking about the characters and the relationships they develop. Saint Leger touches upon the manner in which he shares directorial duties with James Mather (Mather focuses on cinematography while Saint Leger works with the actors). We also get a peek at some green screen work that gets further expanded upon in the next featurette.
A Vision of the Future (10:14) has a more technical bent as it features a discussion with Frank Walsh (Supervising Art Director), Oliver Hodge (Art Director) and Richard Bain (VFX Supervisor). The trio offers their thoughts on what grimy sci-fi looks like and finding the balance between practical and virtual effects. A number of production design elements are explored as difficulties are uncovered and solutions explained.
Lockout definitely doesn't suffer from an identity crisis. As conceived by the writing / directing duo of Saint & Mather (under the production wing of Luc Besson), the film positions itself as a smaller B-grade action flick with zero pretension. Thanks to a gleeful leading turn by Guy Pearce and a tone that never takes itself too seriously, the underlying promise is fulfilled. Not all the droll humor plays as well as it should and the villains feel a bit underdeveloped but these are minor complaints that will hardly detract from the overall effect. Ultimately, this is just a fun, little action flick and there's nothing wrong with that. Recommended.