Remember when action movies were fun, slick, fast-paced and centered on a lovable muscle-bound jerk with a quip for every occasion? Lockout does — the new "space prison" movie, out today, feels like it was filmed in 1987 and somehow preserved in a vault for the past 25 years. If you miss the days of classic Schwarzenegger and Kurt Russell films, then Lockout will be a total joy to behold.
Actually, there's not that much to spoil in Lockout. The plot is pretty simple, and it's just an excuse for Guy Pearce, the movie's star, to get into an endless series of scrapes and mishaps, while making as many smart-alec comments as possible. Part of the thrill of this movie is suspending the logic part of your brain so you can enjoy the cartoony hijinks.
But here goes, anyway: Snow (Guy Pearce) is a super spy, the best at what he does, etc. But he's been framed for murder and espionage. Meanwhile, the president's daughter Emilie (Maggie Grace) is visiting the space prison M.S. One to check on the well-being of the inmates, and there's a prison riot that goes out of control. Snow is offered a deal: If he goes up to M.S. One and rescues Emilie from 500 hardened space criminals, he'll get a full pardon. So all he has to do is break into the toughest prison in space (well, the only prison in space) and fight his way through a bunch of psychopaths. Some of whom are Scottish. (And you know that Scottish psychopaths are the worst.)
Yes, it really is Escape from New York in space. And what's wrong with that?
The main differences between Lockout and most other action films I've seen lately are:
1) It's less than 90 minutes long, and it wastes exactly zero time on long boring scenes that are intended to convey wonder or awe or character development. (Imagine if one of Michael Bay's Transformers movies was just 88 minutes long, instead of five hours.)
2) It's gleefully obnoxious, including an anti-hero (Snow) who's straight out of the 80s and a set of characters who are so one-note, you want to hug them. Snow is a jerk who insists on smoking cigarettes (which nobody does any more) and jamming his thumb in the eye of authority over and over. And Lockout zeroes in on the central relationship in the film — Snow and Emilie — with ruthless efficiency, and then delivers a loving reproduction of the Han Solo-Princess Leia relationship circa Empire Strikes Back.
3) The special effects are much, much worse. You can tell they had no money whatsoever, and they're trying to create future cities and space stations and spaceships. It's sort of endearing when the film devolves into video game cutscenes from 10 years ago, because it reinforces the "retro" feeling. Plus it's part of what forces the film-makers to keep moving so doggone fast with everything.
Just check out the clip at left, in which Snow and Emilie have a sparky exchange. If you don't find the quips about the "the corn surplus" and "No, really, apparently we should all be eating more corn" amusing, then this film probably isn't for you. I really liked the non-stop banter — and the good news is, Emilie does the predictable thing and stops being an ice princess about halfway through, so she's not as annoying as you might think.
And there's basically just a nonstop string of lunatic scenarios playing out one by one — Snow has to inject stuff through Emilie's eye directly into her brain, Snow has to fight a guy in a zero-gravity chamber, Emilie has to go through a chamber full of rambunctious inmates while disguised via hair grease and a severe haircut, etc. etc. The zany situations keep coming, fast enough that they never quite get old.
And did I mention the villains are Scottish? There are crazy Scottish people in this movie, being evil and psychopathic, and one of them has scary metal teeth and a mohawk. Scottish bastards in space is a surefire formula for excellence, in my experience.
Oh, and meanwhile, the whole gang of spies and police officers and soldiers, and eventually the President himself, are gathered at the Low Orbit Police Department (LOPD) headquarters, a space station that normally deals with petty satellite thefts (I'm just guessing) but is now the crisis center for a huge national emergency. Brows are knitted, contingency plans are made, and every now and then someone comes up with a plan that's so crazy, it just might work.
(Our personal favorite? The scene early on where they're debating what to do about the kidnapping and they discuss sending all the space marines to storm the prison. But if that happens, the prisoners will respond by killing the president's daughter. Or, says one of the CIA spymasters, we could send... just one man.)
This movie throws logic and realism so far out the airlock, you can see them flying off into interstellar space, while Snow is violating the laws of physics and good sense. Some major plot points that happen in the second half of the movie are so ludicrous that you'll be either groaning or shrieking with laughter. I opted for the latter, and I was laughing every few moments in this film. Between the cornball dialogue and the totally nonsensical plot twists, this film kept me beyond diverted.
Honestly, I almost want to say that Lockout is this year's Doomsday or Drive Angry — except that it doesn't contain any cannibalism or Nic Cage killing people while drinking whiskey and having sex. It has a similar "who gives a shit" vibe, though, and these days action movies that genuinely don't give a shit about trying to reach every possible demographic and sell a billion toys and fast food tie-ins are actually quite rare.
Movies like Lockout only come to the big screen once or twice a year these days — if we're lucky. Action movies are dime a dozen, but a film this totally insane and joyful in its rejection of logic and basic good sense is actually a precious artifact — especially one like Lockout, that feels like it comes to us directly from a bygone era of shameless entertainment.