Neely Swanson

“Lockout” – better off locked up [MOVIE REVIEW]

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Guy Pearce in Lockout. Photo courtesy of Open Road Films“Lockout,” the major release competing with “The Three Stooges” for your entertainment dollars would, on the surface, seem to be the action lover’s choice. It’s not. Instead, I wouldn’t discount its unintentional comedy value heightened by hackneyed dialogue, over-the-top villains, bad acting and terrible chemistry.

Taking place in the near-distant future, Snow, an agency operative has been set up to take the fall for a murder he did not commit. One of the good guys, he was working with the murder victim to prove a conspiracy within the government when all hell broke loose. Escaping with an incriminating brief case, he is apprehended just after he was able to pass it off to an ally, an ally who also will get wrongly accursed of a crime.

Constitutional safeguards seem to have been lost somewhere 40 years in the future and Snow is on the cusp of being sent to a maximum security prison in space where all criminals convicted of violent crimes are put into a state of stasis, although some kind of cryogenic element seems to be used as well. Just as he is about to be shipped out (way out), a riot breaks out at the prison and, as luck would have it, the President’s daughter was among the civilians and workers taken hostage. Snow is offered his freedom if, and it’s a big if, he rescues the daughter. It is against insurmountable odds and lots of cool gadgets that he breaks into the prison and begins his task.

The credits read: “Based on an original story by Luc Besson” but it doesn’t take very much time to realize that there is nothing original about this story. It is every prison break movie ever made (although it’s not made as well) with a Star Wars-type death star and criminals that make Freddie Krueger look like an altar boy. Borrowing apocalyptic visions from “Deep Impact” and “Armageddon,” it is also every movie that ever put the Eastern Seaboard in danger of annihilation and required an important hostage to be rescued against impossible odds. James Mather and Stephen St. Leger, working together as writers/directors (so the blame can be easily assessed) haven’t seen a cliché they didn’t love and have yet to learn about consistency of tone.

And yet there’s more, or more to the point, less. Overall, the acting is abysmal. I am a huge Guy Pearce fan, or at least I was until this film and his previous one “Seeking Justice.” Deadpan demeanor works well when you are playing a memory-challenged man as he did brilliantly in “Memento.” Here, not so much. If the dialogue had been better (see the above reference to cliché), perhaps; but probably not even then. An important part to the potential success of “Lockout” lay within the rescuer/rescuee relationship and with Maggie Grace. There is nothing there – no eye contact, no nuance, no discernible acting ability – just dead space (that was a pun, just in case you missed it). Maggie Grace is the Rachel Bilson of the big screen – looks great in clothes and should never utter a word. Missing entirely from the equation is the all important chemistry between the male and female leads, especially when their banter and repartee, meant to be witty and rapid, is so banal, calculating and lacking any necessary spark. What their chemistry needed was the shot of norepinephrine (mispronounced by the actor playing the scientist) and serotonin given to the prisoners to bring them out of their deep sleep.

There were other actors in the film, but in most cases I hate to use the word performances. On the dark side, Peter Stomare, playing a possibly duplicitous “agency” head made no effort to hide his Swedish accent, adding another dimension of incomprehensibility to his dialogue. Lenny James as Stomare’s colleague made no apparent missteps which, in this case, was a major plus. Joseph Gilgun, playing the prisoner who precipitated the take over, is so over the top with his scarred, tattooed body, missing eye, and hilarious mullet that he was actually something to look forward to on screen. And, although it’s too little and too late, Vincent Reagan as the leader of the criminals is quite good, actually subtle in his approach to what he’s trying to accomplish; no mustache twirler he.

The viciousness of my attack on this film is, perhaps, in some ways unwarranted. It was fueled by my early desire to like the film. The first few minutes are adrenaline-powered and lead hopefully down the path of government conspiracy until it veered wildly off that track and into the ordinary, albeit an ordinary that had lots of special effects and great cinematography. Action thrillers often call for a suspension of belief but “Lockout” didn’t provide us with the belief structure. Why was it, at a super high-powered, high tech maximum security prison in outer space that Snow was able to pry open by hand electronic doors with hand print identification technology? Why, when Snow was trying to disguise the president’s daughter by cutting and coloring her hair and dressing her in a shapeless prison jump suit, was there no greater effort to make her look like a boy? She had on eye makeup, for crying out loud. And, as a final head scratcher, when Snow admits that his first name is Marion, he explains that his father was a big John Wayne fan. Let me lay that one out for you. If this is the year 2052 and Snow is, at most, 40, then his father would most likely have been born sometime in the late 80’s to early 90’s. Unless he went to USC, majoring in either film or football, it is unlikely that he ever saw a John Wayne movie or, for that matter, knew who he was, let alone that his first name was Marion.

In the end, if you need a laugh this weekend, skip “The Three Stooges” and head for “Lockout.” On the other hand, as one fellow reviewer graciously pointed out, “Lockout” is the perfect film for a 14-year-old, as all they want is cool special effects and a hot babe. Ah, youth! For myself, I’m still hoping that Guy Pearce finds his way back from space and lands a decent role before it’s too late.

Opening April 13 at theaters everywhere.

Neely also writes a blog about writers in television and film at


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