Directed By: James Mather and Stephen St. Leger
Starring: Guy Pearce, Maggie Grace, Peter Stromare, Lennie James, Vincent Regan, Joseph Gilgun, Jacky Ido, Anne-Solenne Hatte
How could you have a plot about a guy saving the president’s daughter from an outer space prison riot and not pour every resource into making that scenario as wildly enjoyable as possible? If you’re going high concept, the only way to make it work is if you go high concept to the max. However, the guys behind Lockout only take it about halfway there, as far too much of their energy, attention and budget is stolen by lame story frills.
When a CIA operative is murdered in Washington DC in 2079, agent Snow (Guy Pearce) is hauled in for questioning. Snow is wrongly convicted of the crime and sentenced to 30 years on MS One, a maximum security prison in space. Meanwhile, Emilie Warnock (Maggie Grace), the daughter of the president of the United States, is on her way to that very prison to assess its status and look into potential side effects of the deep sleep treatment used on the inmates, one of which is extreme aggression. When things go awry during one of her interviews, an inmate (Joseph Gilgun) escapes and frees his cohorts, inciting a violent riot.
With Emilie’s life at stake, senior officer Scott Langral (Peter Stormare) reluctantly reassesses his plan to lock Snow away and instead sends him to MS One to find and rescue Emilie. After all, it is a suicide mission.
Talk about high concept. The plot of Lockout is really as ridiculously cool as it sounds and co-writer-directors James Mather and Stephen St. Leger embrace it, and perhaps a bit too much. Snow is as brash and indestructible as they come. Almost all of his dialogue consists of obnoxious jests and egotistical banter, which is amusing at times, but falls flat so often, it becomes a bit annoying. Plus, the fact that he’s rarely serious keeps you form building a serious connection to him and, in turn, from caring about him. And not that there’s any need to care about the guy anyway; there isn’t a single moment in Lockout when you feel Snow’s life is really at stake. Despite his callous attitude, he always finds a way out, the bullets will always whiz right by and all he’ll end up with is a macho man cut on his face.
Why even bother watching him trek through the prison then? Grace’s Emilie actually does have a heart and that heart makes you invested in her survival and, therefore, invested in Snow’s mission to rescue her. No, Grace’s performance isn’t anything special, but the role doesn’t really give her much to work with. Still, she takes what she’s given, basically your typical damsel in distress role, and works with it enough to make Emilie a somewhat realized character.
Pearce does the same, but no amount of effort can bring Snow from script to screen successfully enough to make him a viable main man. There’s just so far that cookie cutter reckless cowboy-like shtick can get him when he’s supposed to be commanding this movie, and your emotions, too. Rather than give Snow a backstory, the script complicates the beautifully simple core concept by giving him a secondary plot line. While Snow’s main mission is to rescue the president’s daughter, he’s also heading out to MS One to track down his former partner, Mace, the partner that stashed away a briefcase Snow barely managed to hand off just before he’s taken away for the murder of that CIA agent. Perhaps this addition could have made Snow’s situation that much more intriguing and complex, but the details are far too poorly conveyed and jumbled to fully comprehend.
On the technical end, Mather and St. Leger may have come up with a somewhat unique story, but their coverage of that story is totally run-of-the-mill. They could have had a lot of fun with MS One’s winding halls and some of the over-the-top action, but instead, all we get is your typical rack focuses and unimaginative framing choices. Another odd choice is the duo’s decision to go the digital route with a street chase sequence. Not only is it incredibly obvious the whole thing is digital, and perhaps even stolen straight out of a video game, but you never even get a clear glimpse of Pearce’s face while he’s riding. On the bright side, the set design and costume work does offer up a few nice nuances, namely the inmate uniforms, which look like prison garb but with a tougher twist and the nightmarish looking hall in MS One where the prisoners are kept.
No, Lockout isn’t a total failure, but it isn’t half as much fun as it looks. Often stories can benefit from having layers, but in this case, all that extra scenario does is take away from what could have been a wickedly simple and wild ride. Had Mather and St. Leger paid more attention to the outlandish scenario of having a super soldier-type infiltrate a space prison, perhaps they could have elevated the quality of that material to the point that the film became fun enough to overlook absurdity and plot holes. Still, at a mere 95-minute running time, Lockout is both a mindless and harmless experience.