A Promising Sci-Fi Adventure With Every Aspect Of The Perfect Action Movie Thrown In...
Director: James Mather and Stephen St. Leger
Starring: Guy Pearce, Maggie Grace, Vincent Regan, Joseph Gilgun
UK Release Date: April 13, 2012
Running Time: 95 mins
Format: Blu Ray/DVD
Genre: Action, Sci-Fi
Rating out of 10: 5/10
“Die Hard... In Space!” It’s difficult to ignore such a comment, even if it does come from Nuts Magazine. But then, if there is one thing that Nuts do understand it is adrenaline pumping, testosterone fueled action movies. Add into the mix that this film is from the producers of Taken and presented to us by none other than Leon and Fifth Element’s Luc Besson and surely this film cannot go wrong.
It is 2079. Guy Pearce plays Snow, a man wrongly convicted of espionage, murder and crimes against the United States of America. The murder he is supposedly framed for, is that of Frank Armstrong, an undercover agent selling (or protecting, depending on who you choose to believe) state secrets on the space program. Snow is offered his freedom, however, if he can help save the President’s daughter, Emilie Warnock (Maggie Grace) from a prison facility orbiting the planet. During her visit to the outer space penitentiary, where inmates are put under cryogenic stasis whilst serving their time, one of the prisoners gets loose and consequently frees all of the convicts in the facility taking the scientists and Presidential party hostage. Snow’s mission, fired by the ulterior motive to find his incarcerated friend who will be able to clear his name, is simply to rescue the President’s daughter, but Emilie has other plans.
Lockout is a promising sci-fi adventure. Every aspect of the perfect action movie is thrown into place: well written and delivered quips and comedic one liners; fast paced action, space based explosions, even a motor bike chase; espionage, damsel in distress, scientific experimentation... You name it, this film has it! But for all of its adrenaline fueled machismo, there is something missing. The characters seem vapid and empty, from the friendship between Snow and Agent Shaw which seems to have no explanation, to Hydell and Alex’s out of place brotherly loyalty. There is no character development, back story or depth to these characters and that is what causes the film to fall flat.
The concept itself is brilliant, with echoes of 70s and 80s sci-fi action which would seem suited to Arnold Schwarzenegger or Jean-Claude Van Damme. The action is well choreographed with an electric opening sequence only slightly marred by the computer game-esque, bright CGI. This sequence also holds a particularly funny moment of comedic realism that all action fans will appreciate. This fast paced, ‘cartoon-y’ action is replaced later in the film by realistic and well animated space station designs and prison brawls instead of the explosive chase scenes we would expect given the opening sequence. This creates a nice mix of human brutality and sci-fi CGI action, making it a feast for the senses as far as action fans are concerned.
Guy Pearce is suitably charming and amusing, but given his script this is un-surprising. The brunt of the script-writers powers seemed to be focused on making us love this man the way we would love John McClane; with witty one liners, ‘Can I have another’ style banter when being beaten and even (a rarity for a hero in modern cinema) a cowboy penchant for cigarettes. So much effort goes into attempting to make Snow an iconic hero, that the actors around him seem to be lost to the vacuums of space. Not enough time is spent on supporting character development and without that, how are we supposed to care about the enemies Snow is fighting or those he is trying to save?
Maggie Grace steps away from her Taken persona of helpless daughter in the wonderful move of taking on yet another kidnapped daughter role. Emilie, however, is calm, collected and honorable, with a tough streak which shows itself especially in later scenes of the film. The fact that the underlying subplot and indeed reason for her character being at the facility in the first place, the matter of prisoners being treated unfairly or even experimented on, is pushed under the carpet however, making her character just another plot device to make Snow ‘cool’.
The waste of the scientific experimentation subplot is a significant factor in why this film didn’t live up to its potential. Emilie has traveled into space under the suspicion that prisoners are being experimented on for the scientific advance of deep-space travel. This could have led to more pathos for the prisoners, but also far more horrific scenes than the one small horror we are exposed to. The prisoners have become unhinged and some have even developed dementia thanks to the stasis, making them all the more dangerous and unstable; but this also makes for cliche ‘crazed’ performances, especially from Hydell (Joseph Gilgun), who could have been far more terrifying than he was, if only we knew a little more about him. Why was he in there? Aggravated assault, yes. But how did he assault his victims? Where were his multitude of scars from? Or how did both he and his brother end up inside? These are simple characteristics which would have stopped this potentially brilliant lunatic villain from being such a psychopathic cliche. Gilgun does put forward a great performance, however, but it is a shame that we were not effected by him as much as we could have been. The issue with dealing with mentally unstable villains is it is so easy to stylistically dehumanize them, and if all of the humanity is lost then we are left with empty shells of monsters, which are far less scary than those who know and understand their actions.
The sci-fi aspect of this film is yet another thing that never quite finds its feet. In 67 years we are expected to believe that people can fall from space through Earth’s atmosphere, in simply a space suit and survive? Or that people can be re-animated from cryogenic sleep to fighting fit physicality in seconds? Even Demolition Man had the realism of that situation covered. Sci-fi films always ask us to suspend our disbelief, but when you are attempting to make something which is essentially a simple prison film, then there are certain areas of realism that could still be adhered to - even in space.
Overall the background and development of place and time in this film is lazy. Things go unexplained and undeveloped and while we are still treated to a very fun ride, it lacks the bite that will make it memorable. All of the effort seems to go into making this film a one man show, but without the surrounding atmosphere that a decent support system of characters and setting can create, even Pearce’s Snow will be forgotten long after the DVD case has been put back on the shelf.
Anastasia is a Freelance Illustrator, Writer and Actress based in Wales, UK.
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