A ripped Guy Pearce (“Memento,” “The King’s Speech”) proves he’s action star material in the sci-fi thriller “Lockout,” directed by James Mather and Stephen St. Leger. Luc Besson, the man who brought us the brilliant and outlandish “The Fifth Element,” conceived this tale about an outer space prison taken over by violent inmates. Among those held captive during the uprising is the president’s daughter, Emilie (Maggie Grace). There to investigate claims that inmates taken out of stasis suffer severe side effects ranging from aggressive behavior to psychosis, it is during an interview with one of the most violent offenders (Joseph Gilgun) things go very wrong.
Enter the government operative who is sent to rescue her — Agent Snow. Prior to the mutiny, Snow (who is portrayed in amusing Han Solo fashion by Pearce), is wrongly accused of espionage. The only man skilled enough to rescue Emilie, the the CIA offers him a deal. Should he save Emilie, all charges would be dropped and he would be a free man.
It’s a good premise and I liked the film for the most part. But in the end “Lockout” failed to meet my expectations. Let’s start with the good — and unfortunately there isn’t much. As I mentioned before, Guy Pearce is solid. Before this film, I couldn’t picture him as an action star. Now, I can see him giving Jeremy Renner a run for his money. I enjoyed him so much in this that I certainly hope this won’t be his last try at the action genre. As for co-star Maggie Grace, she wasn’t bad. Most remember her as Shannon from “Lost” and Liam Neeson’s kidnapped daughter in “Taken.” What was great about the two leads is that their chemistry was similar to that of Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher in the “Star Wars” movies. Several exchanges reminded me of the clever banter between Han Solo and Princess Leia.
Now onto the negatives. The villains in the story were a bit too cartoonish — particularly one such baddie named Hydell (Gilgun). I will concede, however, that even though I thought he was too much, Gilgun did manage to give a disquieting performance. Alex (Vincent Regan), the brains of the operation, was adequate, as was the remaining supporting cast. Yet what kept me from enjoying the film completely was its absurdity. In one scene, Snow disguises Emilie as a male in order to slip past rioting inmates. Right away, this should have failed because Maggie Grace is a beautiful woman with striking feminine features. No matter how short her hair is cut, unless there are prosthetics used to conceal her identity, she doesn’t look like a male. Not believable.
Next, there’s one of the final sequences. Once Snow and Emilie finally reach the escape pods, there is only one. What? The writers expect us to believe that on a space prison, manned by dozens, there is only one escape pod that seats one person? Once again, this is not believable. Last, but certainly not least, is the most important component that packages the film, the visual effects. With a production budget estimated at $30 million, why did I think I was watching “Battlestar Galactica”? Don’t get me wrong, I love “Battlestar Galactica,” but it was a television show. “District 9” was made at around the same amount “Lockout” was and earned an Academy Award nomination for visual effects. Unless Guy Pearce was paid $15 million — which I doubt — there shouldn’t have been any skimping on the CGI.
So, if you plan to watch “Lockout” — which, by the way, is clearly a homage to John Carpenter’s “Escape From New York” with a bit of “The Rock” thrown in for good measure — go in with lowered expectations and watch it for Pearce. It’s worth the matinee price to see him in a different role and excel at it.
“Lockout” opens wide April 13 and is rated PG13.
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