With Guy Pearce, Maggie Grace, Peter Stormare, Vincent Regan, Joseph Gilgun. Written by Stephen St. Leger & James Mather & Luc Besson. Directed by James Mather, Stephen St. Leger. Rated PG-13 (for intense sequences of violence and action, and language including some sexual references). 95 minutes.
In term of its premise, LOCKOUT is a variation on an oft-told story: a tough but ironic hero is sent to rescue a hostage – a beautiful blonde, naturally – being held by a ruthless enemy. As conceived by French man-of-action Luc Besson (“Taken,” “Colombiana,” “The Transporter”), and brought to the screen by the directing team of Stephen St. Leger and James Mather, it becomes a slick and adrenaline-filled sci-fi action film. You won’t leave the theater having new insights on the human condition, but you will have had a great ride.
Snow (Guy Pearce) is wrongly convicted of espionage in a future United States and is to be sent to a new maximum security prison. It’s in orbit and the prisoners are in “stasis,” a form of suspended animation that not all of them will survive. By coincidence, the President’s daughter Emilie (Maggie Grace) is visiting the prison on a fact-finding mission. Due to an overzealous Secret Service agent, a crazed prisoner named Hydell (Joseph Gilgun) is allowed to escape. He soon has revived the nearly 500 frozen prisoners on the station, and they’re not happy. One of the prisoners, Alex (Vincent Regan), takes charge and Emilie and the other non-prisoners are held hostage.
Back on Earth, two options present themselves. Langral (Peter Stormare), the security chief who is convinced Snow is a traitor, wants to stage an all-out assault on the prison. The more even-tempered Shaw (Lennie James) has a better idea. Send Snow into the prison to conduct a one-man rescue operation. Guess which becomes the chief plan?
At that point it’s just a matter of ratcheting up the action and suspense while allowing for scenes where Snow and Emilie exchange snappy banter. She definitely doesn’t care for his attitude. The feeling is mutual but they’re stuck with each other. Savvy viewers ought to figure out where this storyline is going as well.
“Lockout” isn’t the stuff of summer blockbusters (there’s a reason it’s being released in mid-April), but it works thanks to its fast pacing and the shrewd casting of Guy Pearce. It’s a role any action star could have played, but the one-liners and asides would have sounded like words put in the character’s mouth by the screenwriters. Pearce is an actor before he is an action hero, and his contempt for his foes and wry outlook towards his increasingly desperate situation comes out of his character. He’s posturing, but he plays Snow as someone who knows it. We wouldn’t mind seeing him in another adventure.
Maggie Grace starts out playing the spoiled daughter of privilege but getting down and dirty as the story progresses, even allowing her looks to be transformed partway through. The various heavies chew the scenery in fine style, sketching their characters in broad strokes. Suffice to say that while some things turn out as expected there are surprises along the way. Besson, St. Leger and Mather are clearly well-versed in the formula they’re playing with here, giving it enough tweaks so that we don’t get too complacent.
“Lockout” is a solid SF action movie that may not challenge audiences, but it doesn’t treat them like idiots either.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books, the most recent being Jar Jar Binks Must Die… And Other Observations About Science Fiction Movies. He teaches film at Suffolk University and lives in Somerville.