I love a good action movie. The self-awareness, the brute irreality, the one-liners, the (anti-) hero, all of it. It’s just fun, you know. Since when did “fun” and “entertaining” become bad words? For some people, probably not those who read reviews, there’s no such dilemma. They have only pleasures, not “guilty pleasures.” They’ve got it half right. You really should just like things that are good and not like things that are bad. Well, I suppose there’s that third category of things that are so bad that they are ironically humorous. Well, Lockout (2012) isn’t one of those.
Snow (Guy Pearce) is a CIA agent, in the mold of all clandestine martial artists, who has been arrested and imprisoned without trial for murder and treason. He suspects foul play. With some difficulty, he had reacquired a case from his friend and passed it onto his backup Mace (Tim Plester), who then hid it somewhere. Meanwhile, the president’s daughter, Emilie (Maggie Grace), is inspecting a maximum security space prison where all the inmates are in stasis. Stasis causes some problems. Snow is on his way there for his crimes when, during an interview with the zaniest of them all, Hydell (Joseph Gilgun), things go very bad. Will people ever learn that no guns means no guns when in close contact with prisoners! Well, now it’s up to Snow to get the girl to the escape pod and find out what happened to the case all the while avoiding the band of 500+ whacked inmates led by the also psychotic Alex (Vincent Regan). Mace is in the prison, did I mention that?
This is great fun. They say of Luc Besson that he only knows how to make one movie. That movie is the comic-infused action movie, and that’s true of his English movies. But while I would never say that every one he’s made is gold, about half of them are and that ain’t bad. The English movies almost always have a darn good premise that only fail because they need to slow down. The only pace Besson has is break-neck. Well, Lockout works just fine at break-neck speed.
Guy Pearce is a great anti-hero. He doesn’t punch his one-liners, he just lets them hang in the air. I don’t know that I ever doubted he’d do well, but I wasn’t certain of it. More like, “Guy Pearce, huh? Interesting.” And it was. He played the character in this weird no-man’s land where he takes things seriously while being completely aware of the insanity of things around him. Right where you need to be.
Nobody smokes anymore!
Maggie Grace does quite well at presenting a refreshingly strong victim. She’s smart and capable while also being the president’s daughter–remind you of anyone? I kind of wish the movie extended just 10 more minutes to give her denouement some more substance and reflection, but you can’t have everything.
Credit to either Stephen St. Leger and James Mather (also the directors) or Besson for filling this movie with some great dialogue. Great, obviously not in The Lion in Winter (1968) sense of great, but in the Die Hard (1988) sense of great. And it is great. There’s a lot going on there. The dialogue has to be funny, grounded, smart, and expressive without falling into sci-fi short hands that make everything sound like the first two pages of Dune (1965) or muscle-head, would-be intimidating stupidity.
This is what The Expendables (2010) should have been. The Expendables promised the old-school action stars in a send-up of the 80’s actioneers. What it gave was a crappy 21st century actioneer with single lines of Bond-like commentary. The writers, ironically, lacked the self-awareness to realize that the movie has to take itself seriously without being solemn.
For a sci-fi actioneer, it does have some questionable CGI at times. Apparently, the budget was $20 million, so we should all be impressed this thing looks at all plausible. However, the motorcycle chase looks and sounds like something right out of a video game. Trust me on this, I’ve played video games.
Now let’s talk about criticisms and their validity. Can you complain that a movie about one man entering a prison full of well-armed psychos to save one woman has moments that aren’t plausible? It’s like the bit at the end where it makes sure we all know that this is a work of fiction and any similarity to real people is purely coincidental. Umm, duh! The proper response to something utterly implausible is laughter, not a scoff of irritation.
Here’s where it gets a little bit tricky.
You need to approach this and roughly every other movie in the way the people making it have done–balancing the serious with the silly. Laugh at the joke, jump at the danger. You’ll enjoy yourself a lot more. But if you’re the kind of person who doesn’t want to enjoy themselves, then by all means fight the premise at every step.
In judging a movie like this, there are a couple things I look for. Am I happy when the hero is on screen? Do they have the roguish charm required? Is the premise roughly straight-forward so that I know why we’re doing any of this?
Obviously, there needs to be a modicum of intelligence assumed on the part of the audience. If you have trouble following Inception (2010), that’s one thing, if you still don’t get The Matrix (1999), you may want to begin entertaining the idea that you’re an idiot.
Other factors. Is the villain roughly menacing without being too weird? This is where The Transporter (2002) took a stumble (along with many Besson movies). Is/are the victim/s too stupid to function? Would it be kinder if they were just allowed to die or remain in prison? Finally, and in a way most importantly, is there a clean thread of action so that I know why we’re running through the corridor at the moment?
Lockout satisfies all of these needs. The clean thread does gets taut-to-breaking point with the “New disaster!” motif that comes in to throw a wrench in the works when things get too easy. But that does not violate any of the rules. And when it comes to actioneers, they are customs more honored in the breach than in the observance.
One critique: you don’t need to reintroduce a setting. Once is enough.
Comment to the critics. If you spend all your time counting the ways Lockout is like other movies, then you’re probably only proving that this is its own movie. When you call it “derivative,” that’s only a bad thing if it derives from only one or two sources, making it a “rip-off.” Derivative-as-bad is really just a nonsense.