Alcatraz in space? Eh, not so much. A protagonist progresses through a prison riot in ‘Lockout’

April 25, 2014

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
April 25, 2014

Lockout, the 2012 science-fiction movie co-directed and co-written by James Mather and Stephen St. Leger, is cheesy, easily forgotten silliness.

The film, which was also co-written by French director Luc Besson, begins in the year 2079 as Snow, a former CIA agent, is being interrogated by Scott Langral, the director of the Secret Service. Langral believes that Snow has killed his (Snow’s) friend, Frank Armstrong, a military official. The Secret Service suspected Armstrong of selling secrets, and Langral’s theory seems to be that Snow offed his buddy in order to maximize his personal profit from the transaction. Snow is condemned to 30 years of cryogenic sleep in MS-One, a controversial orbital prison.

Meanwhile, the facility is being inspected by one Emilie Warnock, who wants to know whether extended sleep might be damaging the psychological stability of inmates. Thanks to a series of unfortunate events (to borrow a phrase), a prisoner whom she interviews is able to steal a gun, escape the interview room and force a technician to wake the space station’s 500 violent prisoners from stasis. The captives run wild, turning the tables on their former captors.

As fate would have it, Warnock is the only child of the widowed president. Snow is offered a deal: Covertly board MS-One, locate the president’s daughter and exfiltrate her in exchange for clemency.

Snow has been thoroughly suspicious of and hostile to Langral from the word go. But a CIA official named Harry Shaw, whom Snow likes and trusts, has been playing the good cop to Langral’s bad cop. When Shaw covertly lets the detainee know that Snow’s partner, Mace, has been captured and imprisoned on MS-One, Snow agrees to attempt the rescue.

The man ostensibly in charge of the prison revolt MS-One is Alex, whose cunning matches his aptitude for violence. But Alex finds his authority being undermined by Hydell, the very prisoner whose breakout triggered the mass escape (or mass awakenings, if you will). Hydell’s own aptitude for violence is even more pronounced than his brother’s, in part because this serial rapist is unencumbered by many concerns other than his lust for Emilie Warnock.

Much of Lockout’s main sequence is predictable. Snow makes his way onto the space station and finds Warnock. The pair spar verbally but begin to bond with each other as they face various perils — and a red herring or two, such as the secret escape pod that ultimately doesn’t provide an escape — en route to their actual egress from the space station.

Emilie Warnock desperately wants to save the lives of her fellow captives, and in that she faces various obstacles — not just Hydell, who enjoys killing, but the anxious officials monitoring the situation from outside the station. They eventually order a strike to destroy the prison, which is rapidly falling out of its designated orbit and could smash into a city on the East Coast of the United States.

Snow is motivated less by his desire to preserve Warnock’s health and safety than he is to rescue his partner, Mace. The movie has some overlapping McGuffins — Mace himself, some information that only he knows and the additional information to which Mace’s information might lead.

In the interval between Snow’s being captured by the Secret Service and Mace getting himself nabbed, you see, Snow was able to slip Mace the briefcase that Armstrong was ostensibly trying to sell (or perhaps to protect?). The case presumably contains evidence that might exonerate Snow and the late Armstrong, and possibly Mace as well. The mystery of the missing briefcase — Can Snow find it? Will it help him? — provides most of the real intrigue in Lockout, which often resembles an exercise in science-fiction and action-adventure movie pastiche more than it does a fully original production.

The cast, led by Guy Pearce as Snow and Maggie Grace as Warnock, does reasonably well with its material. Vincent Regan and Joseph Gilgun handily project menace as villains Alex and Hydell, respectively. Lennie James presents an amiable presence as Snow’s friend, Shaw, while Tim Plester and Peter Hudson perform nicely as Mace and President Warnock.

But while the film is well-executed, for the most part, one of its glaring flaws is the ridiculously thick accent wielded by Peter Stormare, the Swedish actor portraying Langral; he’s even less convincing as an Americanesque villain than Arnold Schwarzenegger is as an Americanesque hero. (There’s also an early Earthbound chase sequence with some astonishingly shoddy special effects; I take it that this appeared only in the extended cut of the film and not in the theatrical version.)

But Lockout is also marred by a great deal of implausibility. Hydell’s breakout seems all too easy on a number of levels. Why aren’t any guards posted outside the interview room? Why does the prison design allow all of the sleepers to be awakened at once? The viewer must simply shrug and set these questions aside.

A certain inconsistency in Lockout’s tone also enhances the goofiness. When fighters are dispatched to blow MS-One out of the sky, the movie resembles Aliens intercut with one of the Death Star sequences from a Star Wars movie. This comes after scenes that allude, knowingly or otherwise, to Escape from New York and any number of other features.

If you don’t like science fiction or action movies — and if so, why have you read this far?! — then you can obviously skip Lockout. If you do, and (perhaps more importantly) if you keep your expectations low, you might find this picture mildly entertaining.

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