“Lockout” review – the future is funny-looking…

Moody blue future?
Moody blue future?

One-man producing machine Luc Besson likes his genre movies.  Witness his success with “The Transporter” series, the “Taken” films, the “Taxi” series and the “District 13” movies.  The guy knows how to crank out a relatively inexpensive B-movie and have it succeed on a global scale.

The recent Cannes film festival, for example, revealed that we’ll be getting Chinese co-produced, Statham-less entries in “The Transporter” franchise (there’s already been a cable tv series based on the concept) and a U.S. remake of “District 13” is in the works with Paul Walker and the Rza under the title “Brick Mansions”.

Last year’s “Lockout” was another would-be franchise-starter from the writer/director/producer, pitting indie fixture and unlikely action hero Guy Pearce into a sci-fi prison movie with more than a hint of Snake Plissken about it.

It’s a tale of disgraced Secret Service agent Snow (Pearce), framed for the murder of a friend and about to spend thirty years in enforced stasis when the U.S. president’s daughter is taken hostage aboard orbital space prison M.S. One.  And that’s about as much as you get in terms of story – this is a very stripped-down film with a brisk running time of 95 minutes and no time for fripperies such as nuance or romance.

In fact, the closest thing that this film has to a romantic sub-plot is the opening sequence, which has Snow being repeatedly smacked in the kisser during an interrogation flashback as he cracks wise at a reliably oily and bastardly Peter Stomare.

Milk.  Good for you. Apparently...
Milk. Good for you. Apparently…

As in the aforementioned adventures of John Carpenter and Kurt Russell’s Cycloptic badass, the kidnapping of a politician’s daughter drives the plot and forces our right guy to be in the wrong place to sort things out and Pearce does a great job of embodying the world-weary traits which we’ve come to expect from the post “Die Hard” action hero.

He sells the fights and stunts well, delivers the script’s great, Shane Black-esque one-liners with aplomb and might have a lucrative future headlining mid-budget B-genre flicks like these – he’s helped by having a truly detestable bad guy to butt heads with in the form of Joe Gilgun, whose hair-trigger psychopath has never met a human being he wouldn’t be happy to blow away with a large handgun.  Gosh, but he’s unpleasant (and I’m not talking about his wandering, not-quite-Begbie-from “Trainspotting” Glasgow accent)

The rest of the cast are fine – Maggie Grace makes for a spunky, witty heroine and conscience for the hero – though the script contrives a little too much to have them meet cute and bicker, setting up a romantic sub-plot which the film rather puts to one side in a rush to blow things up.  Vincent Regan is good value, too, as the nominal leader of the prison uprising – he’s got one of those, “I recognize you from that film…” faces.

One thing is certainly of note – in an age where we go to see science fiction films at the cinema and routinely marvel at the gleaming production design and bleeding-edge visual effects, “Lockout” is a movie which has some of the most eye-poppingly bad CG effects that you could ever hope to see.  Seriously.  There’s a chase sequence at the outset of the film which was apparently rendered on a Spectrum 48K and, for all I know, may have been streaming into the movie from a cassette tape.

Witness, if you will:

A sequence which cost at least £25 to make...
A sequence which cost at least £25 to make…(image via The Knights Blog)

James Cameron is questioning his professional choices as you read this review.  For realsies.

To sum things up – if “Lockout” is playing on TV one night and you happen upon it whilst channel surfing, you’ll probably have a lot of fun with it if only to play ‘spot-the-homage’ and wince at some of the more clout-around-the-ears moments of fisticuffs.  It has good dialogue, occasionally insane plotting (Parachutes?  Really?) and a scrappy charm which is hard not to embrace as an established fan of little genre movies which try to bely their budgets (this funky little effort cost $15 million to make, fact fans).

It’s not a film which you have to own unless you like your action sci-fi unpretentious, eye-wateringly violent and shepherded to the screen by Luc Besson – a small demographic to be sure, but if that’s you, you could certainly do worse than to pick up this film.