‘Lockout’ sends an action movie from the past far into the future

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Directed by James Mather and Stephen St. Leger

Written by Stephen St. Leger and James Mather

France, 2012

Luc Besson is one of the most prolific, hard working individuals in the film industry today. His talents range from writing, producing to directing. While his dexterity may be enough for a host of people to shower the Frenchman with praise, it stands to reason that, notwithstanding a few exceptions, he has made the sort of films which attract the male adolescent crowd. On occasion he will be the progenitor of something that strives for more, Léon: The Professional and the upcoming The Lady being two examples, but for the most part they resemble Taken, Nikita, The Fifth Element, Transporter and District 13: Ultimatum. Besson gave birth to the original idea behind Lockout, starring Aussie Guy Pierce, then handed over the screenwriting and directing reigns to Irishmen Stephen Saint Leger and James Mather, who are signing their first feature length film.

Set in 2079, Lockout is a very futuristic thriller, complete with space stations run with the help of high-tech machinery. The story opens on a very average looking Earth however, as former CIA agent Snow (Guy Pearce) is under investigation by the feds for the murder of one of their own. The lead agents on the case are Langral (Peter Stormare) and Shaw (Lennie James). Langral believes Snow is totally guilty whereas Shaw pleads his innocence. Deep above all of their heads, orbiting around the planet is the MS1 space prison, containing 500 of the world’s most dangerous convicts in a coma. The president’s daughter, Emilie (Maggie Grace) is visiting the station on a humanitarian mission, but a prisoner manages to escape during an interviewer and proceeds to release all of his insane buddies, among them brothers Hydell (Joseph Gilgun) and Alex (Vincent Regan) Before they know it, Langral and Shaw are compelled to send in the only man capable of retrieving the president’s daughter and bringing her to safety: wisecracking, brash, sarcastic Snow himself.

‘The irony is in having the audience reconnect with the sort of protagonist who is not seen much at the multiplex these days or, for that matter, was last genuinely popular nearly two decades ago, in a film set in the distant future.’

The premise is very reminiscent of 1988’s Die Hard, and in some respects it adheres to the tone of McTiernan’s oft revered action movie, with a down and dirty, old school hero who nobody seems to like very much being the sole individual for the task at hand, facing off against a small army of the world’s filthiest, most vulgar and dangerous criminals, oftentimes in one-on-one situations. Star Guy Pearce gives a performance which calls back to that of Willis some 24 years ago, offering a laundry list of one liners to out wit (or out ‘bad-ass’) everybody else. When boiled down to his bare essentials, Snow is a hero from our past transported into the future. The irony is in having the audience reconnect with the sort of protagonist who is not seen much at the multiplex these days or, for that matter, was last genuinely popular nearly two decades ago, in a film set in the distant future. Some will undoubtedly find the notion comforting, lending further heft to the old adage that the more things change, the more they remain the same. Snow is rough and tough, not ready to take bull crap from anybody, least of all the president’s own daughter, and equally determined at delivering the killer blows when required to against a foe, despite his early reluctance towards the prospect of being sent into a madhouse to do other people’s dirty work. Like the protagonist of Die Hard, Snow is at the wrong place at the wrong time, and the audience can be very thankful for that.

The directing duo of Mather and Saint Leger are unafraid of mixing up genres in this wild and wacky adventure. It is certainly not the most original of concepts, but the team mixes the tone of the picture nicely in order to satisfy the general evening time crowd, typically easy to satisfy anyways, by tossing in some hard hitting action, some ludicrous plot developments that further complicate Snow’s task, a couple of over the top villains and some healthy doses of comedy to keep things light enough. The jokes themselves are not of the intellectual variety, that much is obvious, yet utilized within the confines of such a silly adventure, they work wonders, reminding the audience that even though a lot of people are dying, this is really just a good old fashioned romp they way they used to make them back in the day. Speaking of comedy, the film itself is rather hysterical for reasons other than Snow’s dialogue. Even the small details of the plot allude to the ridiculousness of the entire affair. For one, apparently people no longer smoke cigarettes, a practice that plagues only a select portion of the population. The audience is led to believe that unhealthy foods have taken over as the principle vice, as Snow’s one remaining ally in the CIA, Shaw, admits as he nibbles on some peanuts that he really should ‘cut down.’ The premise itself is the thing of parody too, what with non other than the American president’s daughter visiting this madhouse in space to verify, of all things, whether or not the prisoners are being mistreated or taken advantage of for the purpose of scientific research. Oh, how nice of her! Of course, the real kicker is when the CIA and president debate as to how they shall save the hostages once the prisoners have begun to run rampant in the outer space complex. A full on attack by the military would sound the alarm, thus plunging the lives of the innocent into further danger. The solution, according to Shaw? Send in one man, one ultra-capable man to clean up this mess: Snow. Honestly, if that is not the stuff action geeks go crazy over, it is hard to say what is. Lockout is not high art, action fans should be pleased with the way the directors embrace the silliness of old school action movies, using them in a very futuristic setting.

‘The smaller scale fights feel more painful and authentic than the larger scale ones, the latter which only succeed in revealing the film’s limited budget.’

Despite the unabashed cheese, Lockout is no comedy. It is, first and foremost, an action film with comedic elements interspersed throughout. On this criteria, the film succeeds in some instances while failing in others. The failures come when Saint Leger and Mather strive to make the action bigger and louder, aping what most 150 million dollar Hollywood productions pull off. Unfortunately, this movie did not have a 150 million dollar budget and is not from Hollywood, where some of the world’s best CG animators operate. Therefore, such sequences which aim for out of this world, high octane thrills fall unbelievably flat, the most pressing example which comes to mind being when, still on Earth, Snow is escaping the police on a speed bike on a city highway. The effects look so blurry and indiscernible, as does Guy Pierce for that matter (strange…), that it nullifies any sense of excitement the scene tries to convey. Thankfully, other moments are pretty impressive, as when Snow and a crazed inmate engage in a rough brawl while suspended in air above gigantic turbines in motion. The smaller scale fights feel more painful and authentic than the larger scale ones, the latter which only succeed in revealing the film’s limited budget.

Boosted by a uniformly dedicated cast, Joseph Gulgun being a particular highlight for his gleeful role as the younger, more insane and unpredictable of the leading antagonists, some decent action scenes (among a couple others which impress a lot less) and a script with no shame about the nature of the film it wants to deliver, Lockout is an perfectly fine time if one is looking for some vintage, testosterone-filled action with a modern twist. With the true blockbuster season only a matter of weeks away, Lockout is opening at an opportunistic time, because it will most likely be entirely forgotten once the big boys of summer start rolling out in multiplexes. One imagines that if one misses it in theatres, this is the sort of film that will be on DVD and Netflix Watch Instantly before one blink of an eye.

-Edgar Chaput

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