The remake for the 1981 John Carpenter cult classic Escape from New York has been touted for a long time already, but never came into fruition. Actors like Gerard Butler and Jeremy Renner have been attached tom play the iconic role of Snake Plissken that made Kurt Russell famous. With the future of the remake unknown (I say leave it alone!), the prolific French writer/producer Luc Besson just went ahead and produced a complete rip-off of that film – Lockout. Set in 2079 the film follows the betrayed and wrongfully convicted US government agent Snow (Guy Pearce) who is awaiting the execution of his sentence – that is to be sent into the safest prison in the world – MS One. Max One orbits the Earth in outer space and its inmates are put into some sort of a cryogenic sleep for the duration of their sentences, thus preventing any violence and saving space. When the president’s daughter, Emilie Warnock (Maggie Grace), ventures to Max One on a humanitarian mission to investigate rumors about prisoners being used as lab rats, all hell breaks loose. Due to a stupid mistake by her bodyguard, one of the convicts (Joseph Gilgun speaking a hardly understandable Scottish accent) escapes and sets all the prisoners on MS One free. With the president’s daughter taken hostage, Snow gets his chance at redemption being sent on a one-man mission to retrieve Miss Warnock. Snow, however, also has a secret personal agenda going on as one of the inmates holds the key to prove his innocence.
A rogue badass agent in near future sent into a maximum security prisoner to save the president’s daughter – does it ring a bell? I thought so. To call Lockout as being inspired by Escape from New York/Escape from L. A. would be the same as to call the Steven Seagal actioner Under Siege as being “inspired” by Die Hard. In fact, it is a total rip-off from start to finish. This doesn’t necessarily need to be a bad thing either. The plot channels a strong schlocky 1980s sci-fi action vibe and Guy Pearce (Memento) is always an interesting actor to watch. This was never going to be a high quality action film, but it wasn’t unreasonable to expect a trashy fun ride. Unfortunately Guy Pearce’s track record of mainstream movies is mixed at best. The Count of Monte Christo was fun, but the less said about The Time Machine or Bedtime Stories, the better. Unfortunately Lockout proves once again that Guy Pearce and mainstream movies just don’t mix well.
This is definitely not Pearce’s fault. He understands the utterly silly, unoriginal and referential nature of the plot and does his best Snake Plissken impression. His laconic character is the archetype of a science fiction anti-hero. About 90% of his film dialogue consists of one-liners such as “His name was Fuck You, he was Asian” or “I guess that’s why they call it a punchline” while he is being pummelled during his interrogation by the Secret Service head played by Peter Stormare. Guy Pearce’s extremely self-aware cool-as-ice performance is unfortunately the film’s only real highlight as he is not just surrounding by a been-there seen-that plot, but also by awful performances, twists you can see a few minutes into the movie, uninspired action scenes and terrible visuals. The movie is the directing debut for the Irish due James Mather and Stephen St. Leger and if Lockout is a true indicator of their “talent”, then the next time you’ll see their names will be most likely in the opening credits of a C-grade direct-to-DVD movie – which is frankly what Lockout feels like starting about ten minutes into the movie. Maybe it would have been better released as such and could be enjoyed at home with some nachos and an ice-cold six-pack of beer. However, even then, there are far better movies to watch as even on the unintentional level it is not as much fun as one can hope for.
While Pearce really does his best, while at the same time being aware of the crapfest he is part of, the other performers apparently seem to take this thing more seriously such as Maggie Grace who repeats her damsel-in-distress performance that she has already delivered in another Besson-produced actioner, Taken, a few years ago. Lennie James’ soft-spoken turn as the only person who believes Snow’s innocence, Peter Stormare’s as the hammy Secret Service guy, Tim Plester as Snow’s trusted man and the very British villains are not just stock characters, but they also never ham it up enough or do enough over-the-top antics to really make them interesting in any way.
Even worse is the movie in the visual department. Obviously, on a $30 million budget it is quite ambitious to set a movie in space (and feature some actual spaceship battles too). However, if you look at what movies like District 9, Chronicle or Cloverfield achieved with similar or even smaller production budgets you can’t help but wonder why some of the movie’s visual effects look like taken directly out of a 1990s video game. Yes, they are that bad. In particular the motorcycle chase scene near the film’s beginning looks absolutely horrendous and will probably be the worst effects-work shown in theatres all year (I have seen higher quality DTV movies) whereas the spaceships’ attack on MS One during the film’s end looks not much better effects-wise than the Rebel Alliance attacking the Death Star at the end of the first Star Wars movie. One has got to wonder where all that money went to, considering that, aside from Pearce, none of the actors could have cost much.
Luc Besson might be best known for his directing of great movies like Leon: The Professional and The Fifth Element, but in the recent years his name is far more associated with writing and producing low key action movies. His Transporter franchise made Jason Statham the action star that he is and Taken gave Liam Neeson’s career a new turn, making him a formidable draw in action movies. There is little depth or artistic merit to be found in most of Besson-produced films (unlike his own The Professional), but if there is one this that most of them have in common is that they certainly deliver on the action promise. Sadly Lockout even fails here. There aren’t many solid action scenes to speak of and even those that start out well (the hotel room fight at the beginning) end up being quite ridiculous (thanks to the ensuing chase scene). Guy Pearce’s character Snow would have been great for a B-grade action flick that Besson usually churns out. However, the filmmaking here is so uninspired, lazy and derivative that not even a little bit of enjoyment, intentional or not, arises throughout its running time.