Digesting the lowest rung of pop culture so you don't have to!
I Saw Lockout
April 19, 2012Posted by on
In early 2009, the Luc Besson-produced film Taken (starring Liam Neeson!) unexpectedly grossed over 200 million dollars at the box office. This surprise smash hit led to somewhat of a genre-film resurgence over the next few years, with each film being of various quality and also varying wildly in terms of box office success. Neeson’s Unknown (not a Besson production, but a similar film to these others nonetheless) was a minor box office hit that was well-reviewed, while From Paris With Love bombed at the box office, even though it featured a manic John Travolta. District 13: Ultimatum barely registered with American viewers at all. Newly-released Besson production Lockout seems to me to be some unholy combination of all of these films put together, and it also feels like a logical progression of the resurgence of the genre film as a whole. Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite work as intended.
The story in Lockout is both hilarious and ludicrous simultaneously. Loose cannon special agent Snow (a manic, bro-ish wise-ass Guy Pearce) is framed for a crime he did not commit. After his arrest, circumstances arise where the president’s daughter (played by Taken‘s Maggie Grace) is taken hostage on a space prison after the space prisoners stage a space revolt. The now-incarcerated Snow is the only man for the job. Hence, Secret Service agents Langral (Fargo‘s Peter Stormare) and Shaw (Walking Dead‘s Lennie James) send Snow on a one-man mission to rescue the president’s daughter and clear his name.
Let me be clear: I only kind of sort of liked this movie. It had so much potential, but it’s hampered for several reasons. I’ll get to that next; let me focus on what I liked first. The film does have its share of entertaining, fun aspects. Guy Pearce, a fantastic actor who I’ve enjoyed in everything from Ravenous to Memento, is legitimately entertaining and fun. He clearly isn’t taking himself seriously, which I appreciate. He totally gets what kind of movie this is. Stormare is also pretty hilarious, with his European accent slipping out here and there accidentally (or was it?). I can also appreciate the genre mash-ups in this film as being totally hilarious. In addition to a space prison movie (the first of its kind?), Lockout is also an over-the-top action film, a political thriller, a revenge film, and many, many other things. It doesn’t always work, and the ending of this movie is really bizarre, but I appreciate the attempts to blend styles.
And now, the bad stuff. Unfortunately, Grace (who was fine in Taken) is not so good here. She doesn’t seem to see the silliness of it all, and her seriousness kind of puts a damper on the fun. The direction is also pretty bad. There are a number of jump cut and smash edits, leading to a “What in the world is going on?” feeling in a few places. The subplot about Snow’s imprisoned contact and friend just plain does not work. There’s some explanation about how different people are affected in different ways by space jail, but it’s not delved into beyond surface conversations and never really makes much sense. Also, due to the low budget of this film, there only seem to be about 10 or so prison rioters at any given time, though we’re told that there are 500 prisoners in space jail. A full-scale space prison riot inside space jail would have been awesome.
I have a lot of problems with Lockout, but none more than its rating. Lockout is rated PG-13, but clearly begs to be rated R. This is a violent, nasty film featuring a bevy of ugly, masochistic prisoners. There’s fighting, attempted rape, shootings, suicide, all manners of violence against unarmed hostages… There’s even a guy who gets blown-up by space dynamite (not joking). But because of the rating, most of this violence happens juuuuust a bit off-screen (that, or the movie cuts away entirely at the last possible second). This is bad to me because it makes the film seem cheap, both in terms of budget and entertainment/pay-off. Lockout attempts to have it both ways by keeping the violence toned down while also appealing to a larger crowd of potential moviegoers via its PG-13 rating, but this is a bad thing for a film of this type.
This begs the question of why the filmmakers would even bother with a weak, entertainment-killing rating like PG-13. Lockout should have enough appeal to film-goers craving violent, empty calorie appeal. More raw and edgier than something like Taken but less silly than something like From Paris With Love, Lockout should be a potty-mouthed, balls-to-the-wall extravaganza of low budget awesomeness. For crying out loud, it’s set in a PRISON IN SPACE. IN MOTHER-FUCKING SPACE. This should have been amazing, but ended up just being kind of mediocre. There are things I like about Lockout, and I appreciate its varied attempts to blend genres, but it is a huge missed opportunity. This had the potential to be a midnight-movie classic, but its only barely passable.