Personality Forgives Lockout's Derivative Stupidity
by Kristin Battestella
In 2079 when a breakout at the orbital MS One Maximum Security Prison endangers the President's daughter Emilie Warnock (Maggie Grace), Secret Service Chief Scott Langrel (Peter Stormare) sends framed ex-CIA agent Snow (Guy Pearce) to the space station to rescue Emilie amid airlock perils, shootouts, and insane inmates. Cryogenic conspiracies, stolen intel, and betrayals acerbate the escape as degrading orbits and ticking clocks countdown toward space battles, free falls, and revelations.
The first five minutes of 2012's Lockout are outstanding with humorous interrogations, spy intrigue, and character introductions setting the situation via intercut editing that matches every beat, quip, and punch. From cigarettes and lighters to guns and MacGuffins, everything has its place. We love the good guys, seethe at the bad guys, and are immediately invested in the adventure to come. Unfortunately, this entertaining start is followed by an unnecessary and ridiculously cartoonish motorcycle chase with terrible effects, fake highways, blurred movement, and nonsensical action so off putting and beyond amateur it's enough to immediately tune out on Lockout. No one trust anyone thanks to set ups, former and current CIA agents versus Secret Service authorities, clever clues, and scrambled memories making for gibberish and riddles. Exposition explaining the space station and unstable suspended animation slows the suspenseful chases, dangerous zones, colorful characters, and entertaining inmates – and this back and forth on the good and bad is indicative of numerous problems throughout the film. Secret experiments on prisoners, government bureaucracy, and global corporations up to no good may be important, but any shady controversies and deeper commentary are a superfluous second to the spectacle. Pieces of other films crowd Lockout, and calling this derivative is generous thanks to a laugh worthy “Based on an Original Idea by Luc Besson” credit and the subsequent lawsuit awarding John Carpenter for the obvious thievery from Escape from New York and Escape from L.A. Why not just have a framed agent en route to a space penal colony with a female reporter as disaster ensue? Although the inmate assaults and multi front attacks are intense, the bomb run to blow up the station dogfights are totally Star Wars. Viewers go along with contrived communications, medical trackers, and convenient maps because we'd shout at the television if people inexplicably knew where to go and what to do otherwise. The bookend heists aren't bad, but the original espionage is shoehorned in with reiterated clues underestimating the audience, and a thrilling adrenaline rush free fall finale has us yelling at the screen once more. Yes, it is actually possible to parachute from space, even though several have died doing so rather than landing safely on earth with the girl as Lockout would have us believe.
But you know, why are the villains Scottish? Joe Gilgun's (This is England) Hydell is wild, scuzzy, lusty, and creepy. He's impulsive, on edge, and a loose cannon jeopardizing every situation. Although the stupidity of a bodyguard with a concealed weapon in a restricted area is more to blame, Hydell's thieving smarts orchestrate the breakout. He presses the wrong buttons, shoots people at random, blasts consoles, prematurely sends a man out an airlock, and doesn't listen to his big brother Vincent Regan (300). Alex is the much smarter inmate, taking charge and making demands. He knows the hostages are the key to their escape, and though he talks to a negotiator, Alex will kill to prove his authority and slap sense into his baby brother. Scene chewing Peter Stormare's (Prison Break) gruff Secret Service Chief Langrel also enjoys taking over and flashing his credentials. He moves people how he wants but keeps information close to the vest. Langrel's only forthcoming in his hatred for Snow, and it's fun guessing what side he's on since he has no problem putting national security above anything else. Lennie James (The Walking Dead) on the other hand, is more forgiving of Snow as CIA suit Harry Shaw, offering devices, opportunity, and communication support as needed. Of course, he also wants Lockout's MacGuffin and needs Snow's help to get it. Once wounded and scared, Maggie Grace's (Taken) Emilie relies on Snow, too, but she has a few resources up her sleeve. Most importantly, unlike today's increasingly younger leading ladies, she's believable as an educated woman in a humanitarian position exposing shady cryogenic practices. Emilie's not afraid to speak out or act high and mighty about the hostages, but she has been sheltered as the president's daughter and it's upsetting to her that people have died for or because of her VIP treatment. Though in over her head, Emilie gets under Snow's skin, giving his humor and sarcasm back in cute moments where viewers expect a kiss and instead get punches in the face. Rather than romance, Emilie's kind of annoyed at being rebuffed. She's used to getting her way, and for all it's obvious lifting on other IPs, Lockout doesn't underestimate the audience with a weak, immature Mary Sue.
is worth watching is for Guy Pearce and Guy Pearce alone. Snow's dry charm, sardonic over it, and admittance that the whole thing is shit and he doesn't want to be there give Lockout it's repeat entertainment value. He could have phoned it in, but it's genius that Pearce keeps Snow self-aware rather than a heroic caricature. He smokes when everyone tells him not to and calls out the increasingly preposterous, giving guff back to the authorities and telling the big wigs to make up their minds. Their counting down to rush him into doing something won't help him get it done, but he'll flirt when he has the chance. To Snow, mouth to mouth is foreplay and he preferred the girl when she was dead and not hitting him in the head with a fire extinguisher. Although Snow's conveniently well versed in spacewalks, our ex-CIA agent is afraid of heights, misses jumps, and falls flat on his face. He's grossed out by needles and drinks the rubbing alcohol because he's cranky, sore, and too old for this. He was after all, the only jerk stupid enough to say yes to this mission. Snow's “Warning: Offensive” t-shirt confirms his insistence that he doesn't like anybody, but despite deflecting quips and shrewd punchlines – literally – he does grieve his friends. For all his bluster, Snow looks out for others at risk to himself, and when not playing dumb or deflecting with an acerbic wisecrack, he spots clues others don't or improvises on the spot. Serious moments partly explain his jadedness; people who have nothing to sacrifice can easily play saint while others get the wrap for things they didn't do or die while the supposedly more important folks take cover. Nonetheless, Snow says he has a rescue to do and did it well he might add – a meta wink as Pearce elevates every scene with surprisingly relevant asides that say exactly what the audience is thinking. Snow didn't have to be such a multi-faceted character, but his unique relatability saves Lockout. Is Pearce is so deliciously buff because he carries the movie? 🤣 Today this would be an ongoing franchise no matter how bad or cliché, and Lockout should have had a sequel thanks to Pearce's pithy performance alone.
Woeful motorcycle chase aside, Lockout's special effects and orbital action are surprisingly well done. Assorted spacecraft battles and station designs look the part thanks to panoramic flybys, retro corridors, picturesque windows, perilous elevators, and dark crawlspaces. Industrial platforms, cell block levels, and maze like interiors make the structure's scale and crowded inmate violence believable while flickering lights and flashing sirens accent steaming radiation zones and frozen airlocks. Granted the cyan patina and orange jumpsuits make for that pleasing, oft seen palette, but in Lockout the lighting scheme feels space authentic not over-saturated. Injuries look like they hurt, and although the medical procedures might not be accurate, the needle through the eye jump start looks cool – creating suspense with practical realism and future improbable just like the zero-gravity mano y mano. Of course, the special effects, gun fire, and action are very loud and the dialogue is soft or not always clear without subtitles. Overly heroic music cues are also on the nose as if Lockout is some grand epic not a cliche yarn. The contrived collision with the International Space Station is amusing, too. Do we really think the ISS will be going strong for another fifty years with the same recognizable old modules and tenuous treaties? Bulky spacesuits and once clever but already passe items like computerized hidden camera glasses and touch screen table surfaces provide chuckles, and the equipment meant to look old holds up better. Ironically, the on set footage in the behind the scenes features on the Lockout blu-ray is pretty fun. It's bemusing to hear the crew talk about that damn motorcycle scene, and Pearce is so gracious in saying he enjoys relying on his imagination to perform a technical challenge. It's okay, Guy, you can tell us if it felt damn silly leaning left and right while being held up by a crew member wearing green screen pajamas. The ending shot for Lockout, however, is unforgivable. Maybe it's supposed to be walking into the sunset of a dim future cityscape, but I'll be darn if it doesn't look like they are just walking off set where the backdrop ends.
A few minutes difference for violence cuts, squishing sounds, and extra blood squibs make a barely discernible change between the PG-13 theatrical version of Lockout and its Unrated blu-ray release. Lockout lifts from hard old school science fiction yarns but who is the audience when today's teens don't care about those R rated throwbacks? Mishmash storylines that could have been tweaked for the better rely on copycat material, and tune out worthy bad CGI is laughable in all the wrong ways. Lockout is an excellent example of how problematic plotting and preposterous flaws draw viewers out of otherwise fine world building, yet this is also the perfect statement on what performance can do. This is a great late night half pay attention to the best parts flick thanks to fun characterizations and likable personality that keep Lockout entertaining even when it doesn't deserve it.