According to the Internet Movie Database, Luc Besson has produced 103 titles. He’s 53 years old. You get where I’m going with this: When somebody — even somebody unusually gifted — cranks out movies at the rate Besson does, there are going to be some clunkers.
For example, Lockout. Clearly conceived as a deliberately cheesy homage to Die Hard-style testosterone fests of the late ’80’s and ’90’s, the French filmmaker’s latest project succeeds only as a reminder of why such pictures fell out of favor in the first place.
A pumped-up Guy Pearce stars as Snow, a former CIA operative who’s been framed for espionage. The year is 2079, and his character has two very serious problems. First, he’s facing the possibility of serving 30 years in MS One, a maximum-security prison in orbit around the Earth. And second, he’s afflicted with a condition that causes him to speak exclusively in wisecracks, self-amused asides and cynical one-liners. Which get tiresome in a hurry.
Snow finds himself presented with an unexpected shot at redemption. As fate would have it, the president’s daughter, Emilie (Maggie Grace), happens to be visiting MS One on a humanitarian mission just as a riot breaks out, and she is taken hostage. High-ranking officials of the Secret Service offer to drop all charges in exchange for her rescue, and, faster than you can say “Snake Plissken,” Snow is firing off one-liners at her captors.
While 500 or so of the baddest asses alive have taken over the place, the film focuses for some reason on just two of them — a pair of Scottish brothers played by Vincent Regan and Joseph Gilgun. Regan is ostensibly the leader and the brains of the rebellion, but he’s a dull boy compared with Gilgun’s manic monster. Neither, though, proves entertaining enough to keep us from wondering where the rest of the prison gang has gone and how much the picture’s bargain-basement budget has to do with the riot’s poor turnout.
Regan and Gilgun may be psycho cartoons, but they’re in many respects better company than the picture’s good guys. Pearce and Grace prove one of movie history’s most grating duos. Instead of kicking inmate butt, Snow spends most of the film’s running time sparring with the inexplicably ungrateful Emilie while attempting to escort her safely to the penal colony’s escape pod. It’s difficult to imagine a screen couple with less chemistry. Of course, the situation isn’t helped by the fact that Grace can’t act her way out of a paper bag, or that the barbs and put-downs the two trade are the handiwork of a writing team with zero ear for dialogue.
Stephen St. Leger and James Mather make their writing/directing debut. Now, there’s a shock. Besson shares a writing credit for helping dream up the story, but you can thank the Irish first-timers for the blockheaded banter. And the video-game-quality special effects. And one of the silliest, most audience-insulting endings you’re likely to come across in your lifetime. Movie-critic law prohibits my saying more than this: Just ask yourself why a prison in orbit would be stocked with parachutes.
What could have been an hour and a half of giddily retro sci-fi fun instead winds up a joyless recycling of tropes. You’ll wish your theater had an escape pod. By the time you’ve finished reading this, Besson will have made another movie and forgotten all about Lockout. Something tells me you’ll forget it quickly, too.
You know what they say: In space, no one can hear you snore.
* Running time: 95 min.
* Rated: PG-13