Guy Pearce elevates an otherwise samey action thriller. Good fun, but nothing new.
Produced by Luc Besson but directed by Irish duo James Mather and Stephen St. Ledger, Lockout is an entertaining futuristic action flick which plays to its strengths well, but struggles to bring anything new to the table. The most original aspect lies in its casting, with Guy Pearce in action hero mode, in a real departure for the actor as a Snake Plissken type.
The plot concerns a low-orbit space prison, where dangerous offenders are kept in suspended animation to serve their time. Of course, this system is not as foolproof as it would seem, and the assorted psychos soon get the better of their guards, taking over the floating jailhouse. They take hostages, including, crucially, the President’s daughter (Maggie Grace). In order to free the damsel in distress and save the day, jaded CIA operative Snow (Pearce) is sent to infiltrate the prison, in return for a pardon from trumped-up charges brought against him.
Sound familiar? You’re probably thinking of Escape from New York, and the similarities are certainly there to be seen. What Lockout does lack in originality though, it more than makes up for by way of a delightfully caustic turn from Pearce in the lead. Always a classy performer, the Australian brings both a robust physicality and a wonderfully dry wit to the character, channelling Kurt Russell in Carpenter’s earlier classic to great effect. His scenes with Grace are great fun, as they swap snide asides with an enjoyable chemistry. Grace is the perfect foil, playing the role with a sort of spoiled dignity which clashes perfectly, if predictably, with Pearce’s world-weary shift.
The action is a little on the standard side, with a few samey shootouts hidden amongst some decent fight sequences, but there is a pleasing physicality to the brawls as a nastily brutal side comes out. The opening scene is perhaps the biggest action set-piece in the film, a fairly exciting chase across a city which takes is well-choreographed, if a little shoddy effects-wise.
Despite a couple of these slightly cheap-feeling CGI moments, the film is visually well-designed, with a flair which causes the near-future dystopia to feel grounded in reality, certainly as far as the Earth-set scenes go. Some decent use of the near outer space setting later on bring some more sci-fi action into play, with one daring escape in particular a nicely realised, high-octane sequence.
Overall, Lockout may not be the most original film of the year, but some solid action scenes are a pleasing enough diversion. The real draw here, though, is the banter between the two leads – a snappy script and two great performances. There is much to enjoy about Lockout, just don’t go in expecting it to revolutionise the genre.