If anybody actually recognized the title as an Escape from New York reference without needing it spelled out, my hat goes off to you. If you are part of the other 99% though, Snake Plissken is Kurt Russel’s character in the (eponymous?) set of movies directed by John Carpenter back in the good ol’ days of the 80’s. Sure, the 80’s might have seen some awful music and even worse fashion sense, but they also gave us more classic action films than you could shake an overly muscled stick at. Hollywood seems to share the general public’s nostalgia for those times of plenty, yet rather than respect the legacy of the films, it has continued to spew out a cacophony of remakes, reboots and low rent rip offs based off of them. When I first saw the trailer for Lockout, I assumed that it would fall into this category, and not without good reason. For one thing, the plot (send a lone renegade to save the President’s daughter from an army of pseudo-organized criminals) is for all intents and purposes the exact same as Escape From New York, merely substituting the President’s Daughter for the President himself and an enormous Space-Station-Turned-Prison for an enormous City-Turned-Prison. While the movie did very little to counter those similarities, the deadpan humor of Guy Pearce’s “Snow” helped to distract me from most of Lockout’s derivativeness and produced a surprisingly entertaining film.
As I said above, if you’ve seen Escape from New York you know the exact plot of Lockout. While on a humanitarian mission to MS-1, a giant orbital space station built to contain hundreds of thousands of sedated inmates, Emilie Warnock (Maggie Grace) is caught in a violent coup by the prisoners. Quick blurb, the way in which the hostile takeover of the station manages to occur is very reminiscent of the same situation in Con-Air and leads me to beg all movie personnel to STOP CARRYING GUNS AROUND INMATES.
Anyways, where was I? Oh yes, to avoid risking (character’s name) life, All the King’s Men decide it would be a good Idea to send recently detained “Snow” (Guy Pearce) in solo to save the girl’s life so that the President may proceed to blow the inmates out of the sky. Along the way there are a few nuances added, such as the humanitarian concerns of the guinea-pig-like treatment of the prisoners on the station, as well as a few late stage plot twists involving Snow’s personal motivation for accepting the job. None of these twists and turns amount to anything really compelling though, and for all intents and purposes the movie could have ended about 10 minutes before it did.
Depth was not something I really expected from this movie, and for that reason it was no surprise or disappointment to me when no depth did I see. Every character is some sort of archetype which even the most casual moviegoer has likely seen many times before. The real strengths of the film, however, come from its ability to take some of those archetypes and make them feel sufficiently fresh enough to pass the time in between explosions. The best example of this comes from Snow, and I would guess that the bottom line of anyone’s opinion of this movie, positive or negative, results from their opinion of his character. At one point in the movie, Snow is called a “relic” by another character, and a relic he truly is. In our modern days of big budget superhero movies and gritty reboots, Snow’s brand of wise-cracking lone-gunmanship has begun to feel like a thing of the past. Perhaps this is for good reason, as characters Bruce Wayne and Tony Stark make the likes of Rambo seem overly simplified and shallow, yet no matter how much more compelling a hero with a backstory can be there is a part of all of us that enjoys the occasional one-liner-spewing badass. Pearce fills this role with aplomb, and to me his character was the clearest sign of the suitably unambitious intentions of the film.
As a quick side note, I’d be remiss without mentioning Maggie Grace’s character as her rescue is the primary (if not only) factor driving the film forward. If we didn’t care about her, we wouldn’t care about her getting rescued and therefore wouldn’t be that interested in the movie. All I’ll say is that Emilie was sympathetic enough to fill the role of “damsel in distress”, but little more than that. She starts out as being a naïve victim of circumstance, developing a bit of a stronger personality once Snow gives her something to bounce back off of, but then falls a little bit too far into overly coy tomboy mode by the end.
As an even quicker side note, Director Luc Besson does seem to recognize the fact that any villain is 10% more intimidating with a foreign accent, and 20% more intimidating with a fucked up eye. Somebody seems to have watched Casino Royale, 2001 Maniacs or Kill Bill so for that, Mr. Besson, I applaud you.
The Verdict: 6.5/10 Perfectly Adequate
Lockout is a great example of a concept that many reviewers, myself included, need to remember from time to time: A bad score on Rotten Tomatoes DOES NOT equal a death sentence for a movie. I have been reminded of this several times this year, most recently by the somewhat similar remake Total Recall. Unfortunately, that movie had the added burden of living up to its predecessor’s name, so whatever mild enjoyment wasn’t enough to save it from being regarded as a disappointment. Luckily, Lockout doesn’t have the audacity to assume the name of its obvious influences, so the mark it aimed for and, in my opinion, achieved, was significantly lower. I’ll be honest, I only watched this because I had seven hours on a plane and access to On Demand movies on a screen 12 inches from my face (score one for United Airlines), but I enjoyed Lockout enough to refrain from changing the channel for over 90 minutes. From someone as technologically ADD as I, that is at least a comfortably modest endorsement.