Every now and then a movie comes along that is just infinitely watchable – you know what I mean? There are those films that you can just watch again and again, even though you know exactly what is going to happen and can recite the script off-by-heart. For me, Lockout is one of those flicks.
Released way back in 2012 from Luc Besson’s EuropaCorp., the movie didn’t do fantastically well at the box-office (it made around $32 million worldwide on a budget of $20 million) and was quickly forgotten. On paper, the film sounds like total B-movie shlock: our hero, Snow – a gruff and sarcastic badass – is wrongly accused of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment. He’s offered a chance for freedom when he is asked to rescue the president’s daughter from MS 1, a maximum security prison which has recently been taken over by its inmates. Oh, and the prison is in space…
If that plot summary sounds familiar, it’s because it’s essentially a complete rip-off of John Carpenter’s Escape from New York from 1981, in which Kurt Russell was tasked with rescuing the president from a giant maximum security prison on the island of Manhattan. The two films are so similar, in fact, that Carpenter recently sued the film-makers for plagiarism and won, resulting in the film’s directors (James Mather and Stephen St. Leger), EuropaCorp. and Luc Besson (who is still credited as having come up with the ‘original idea’ on IMDb) paying EUR 80,000 in damages. For context, Hollywood plagiarism cases rarely play out because it’s so difficult to prove – studios and film-makers steal from each other all the time (just watch a Tarantino movie) – so Lockout was really taking the piss.
While the story maybe silly and demonstrably unoriginal – it still holds your attention. The narrative goes at quite a pace, has good action beats and doesn’t get bogged down in exposition – to the point where very few things are actually explained at all. For example, the setting on Earth is a dystopian America: the police are (more) militarised, the White House is fortified and the Oval Office is located several floors below sea-level. None of this is ever addressed or explained, but the movie somehow doesn’t suffer because of it. It’s actually quite refreshing to see a film establish a setting and just get on with it – though I’m guess it wasn’t done intentionally. This lack of exposition does mean that a few of the subplots have no pay-off; there’s a suggestion that the prisoners on MS 1 are being experimented on but this doesn’t really go anywhere. It would have been nice to have some of these side stories fleshed out a bit more.
The best thing about Lockout is its characters and the film boasts a surprisingly good cast considering its low budget. Lennie James and Peter Stomare make a good double-act, essentially playing ‘good cop’ and ‘bad cop’ respectively. Maggie Grace does well as the president’s daughter and the moral heart of the movie. The two villains – played to perfection by Vincent Regan and Joseph Gilgun – are brilliant together, with Regan playing the increasingly desperate leader of the rebellious convicts and Gilgun giving an amazing turn as his psychotic loose-canon brother. But the real star of the show is Guy Pearce as Snow, who pretty much carries the movie. You get the impression that Pearce accepted the role purely for his own amusement, and he is clearly having a tonne of fun playing a sarcastic ass-hole with a heart of gold. He’s probably the only reason the film works at all, to be honest – his sense of humour and delivery is excellent, and he really makes the movie worth watching.
Lockout is not a great film and I’ll be the first to admit that. But despite all it’s flaws, I actually think it’s one of the more enjoyable action movies I’ve seen in a long time. It may be criminally unoriginal, utterly daft and have some of the worst CGI I have ever seen (seriously, I’ve seen better graphics in PS2 games), but it is genuinely entertaining. Just sit back, relax and… try not to think about it too much.