'Lockout': Lost in Space
Glenn Kenny, Special to MSN Movies
Since striking fanboy-cred gold with his elaborate, eccentric sci-fi spectacular "The Fifth Element," writer-director Luc Besson has been enjoying (well, I presume he's been enjoying) a lucrative cinematic sideline dreaming up and producing action films in multiple genres. The movies bearing his imprimatur draw heavily from Asian cinema, graphic novels, and video games. Not to mention older genre classics, and sometimes his own prior films. They generally reflect a kind of cheeky boyish delight in tech innovations and outlandish action; I've certainly gotten my share of semi-adolescent kicks from such Besson conceived-and-approved pictures as the "Transporter" movies and the recent "La Femme Nikita" gloss "Colombiana." But the outer-space prison-infiltration saga "Lockout," both produced and ostensibly "based on an original idea" by Besson, is sufficiently strained that it suggests a regrouping vacation might be in order for the busy producer, whose credits as such now number over one hundred, if IMDB is to be trusted.
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The "based on an original idea" part is a pretty good laugh, since almost every darn thing in the movie seems directly grafted on from another film. I recall the idea of "space jail" from the likes of the early '80s sci-fi actioner "Outland," and the condition of "stasis" under which the prisoners in the orbital version of Supermax are suspended of course recalls "Minority Report." The film's hero, Snow, aside from having a name lifted from a pretty lame Canadian rapper, is pretty much a carbon copy of "The Fifth Element"'s tough, wisecracking Korben Dallas, and a pumped up Guy Pearce here does well by the archetype without ever overtly aping original Korben portrayer Bruce Willis. And so it goes.
As the film opens, Snow's being smacked around by some CIA biggies who want some secrets he supposedly stole, and the authorities are about to put him up in the space prison under a trumped-up rap when (oh no!) a security breach has set free all the vilest scum in the galaxy, led by two slobbering Scots, one an eager wannabe rapist and the other a more reflective type. And the wannabe rapist has his one good eye set on one of the more comely hostages, who happens to be...the Daughter Of The President Of The United States Of The Future (the film is set in 2079).
Suddenly Snow mutates from fly in the special ops ointment to the only hope of his masters, as he's snuck on to the spacecraft to rescue said Daughter Of President, who also happens to be a feisty human rights crusader, played with requisite feistiness by Maggie Grace. Nitrogen levels rise, oxygen levels drop, the floating prison threatens to fall to earth, and all the while tensions mount, not in terribly unpredictable ways. "Why don't we just kill that lunatic?" one of the escapees asks the reflective Scot leader-escapee. The audience might as well just say it along with him: "Because he's my brother." Yeah, yeah, we know, but of course the orchestral score by Alexandre Azaria has to hammer it home with a three-chord flourish that the makers of Universal horror films of the '40s might have rejected as too obvious.
One of the things that made ruthlessly derivative B-pictures of the past kind of enjoyable was that they compensated for lack of originality with an eagerness to push envelopes, as it were; to go farther "out" in terms of exploitation and crassness. But today's B-pictures tend to synthesize, then smooth out, putting all manner of genre ingredients into the mixmaster and then baking them into an almost invariably PG-13 rated concoction of no appreciable outrageousness. "Lockout" is a more tired-than-average manifestation of this tendency.
While the byplay between Pearce and Grace is not un-fun, and some of the action satisfying, "Lockout" is a largely half-hearted effort in which some of the major set pieces are so indifferently executed that they literally look exactly like sequences out of video games. The movie's not an active pain to sit through, particularly if you are indeed a fan of its genre, but it's also about as instantly forgettable as they come.
Glenn Kenny is chief film critic for MSN Movies. He was the chief film critic for Premiere magazine from 1998 to 2007. He contributes to various publications and websites, and blogs at http://somecamerunning.typepad.com. He lives in Brooklyn.