While it never quite lives up to its hype as being an exact clone of John Carpenter’s Escape from New York but in space or to producer, co-writer, or “original idea” drafter Luc Besson’s assertion that it’s really Taken in space, Lockout manages some moments of cheesy fun and some decent action sequences. What makes it almost perplexing in a way is how directors and co-writers James Mather and Stephen St. Leger never decide if they want to make a silly and brainless sci-fi blockbuster or a more high minded action film. It’s familiar enough to be watchable, but never all that memorable.
In the year 2079, the singularly monikered ex-CIA agent Snow (Guy Pearce) has been imprisoned and found guilty of treason for a crime he didn’t commit. While awaiting transport to the maximum security space prison MS-1, the president’s daughter Emilie (Maggie Grace) ends up getting kidnapped while on a humanitarian mission on board the floating penitentiary following a jail break of formerly frozen prisoners. And only one man can get her out alive. Snow agrees to the mission not only for a chance at a leaner sentence, but also because the one man who can clear his name is already on board MS-1.
I’m not quite sure if it’s the script or the terrible editing that really causes the film to be so tone deaf, but the directors never let anything once play out to any sort of logical or illogical conclusion. At the start of the movie, a lot of potential plot points and details about the prison are thrown at the audience in a rapid fire fashion, but not all of them will turn out to matter or make much a difference if they’re even brought up at all. At the outset Besson, Mather, and Leger expend a lot of energy trying to create a world that they will stop giving a crap about after the first 30 minutes or so.
It would’ve been more fun had they never given a crap in the first place, because when it comes time for Pearce to enter into badass mode the film ends up raising more questions than providing any sort of pay off for the set up. All the things we’re told to pay attention to are dropped or simply blown off, but now there’s no time left to explain the relationships or motives of anyone on board the ship, especially the boring and stereotypical Scotish villains (Vincent Regen and Joseph Gilgun), one of whom is crazy and the other cold and calculating.
It’s nice to see Pearce get his Snake Plissken on, but aside from some great one liners and some refined action hero chops, he doesn’t have much to work with even in the middle of Mather and Leger’s elaborate sets. Grace doesn’t have much to do, and the main villains are so vanilla that it’s hard to care who lives or dies. As for everyone else, they’re just deus ex machnias that show up to die or give people weapons simply because the story dictates they be there.
In the end, Lockout is too stupid to be taken seriously, but it starts off too elaborately to be thought of as being stupid. It’s never enough fun to shut your brain off and it’s so illogical that it nags at the viewer. Making a movie that’s essentially “insert movie here but in space” isn’t rocket science, but it should also be more fun than this. The final action sequence of the film ends with a deliriously illogical bit of science that’s almost howlingly bad. Had the rest of the film been that silly or oddly badass, maybe the it would be more successful.