I'm not sure that putting a maximum security prison in orbit would be the best use of tax dollars, but it is hard to think of one more primed for ass-kickery. From Luc Besson, now officially the 21st Century Gallic Roger Corman, comes 'Lockout,' at one time called 'MS One: Maximum Security' but, let's face it, is better off just called 'Space Jail.' No, excuse me, 'Space Jail!' Yeah, that's it.
It is my sad duty to report, however, that talking and joking about 'Space Jail!' are, alas, more fun than actually watching 'Lockout.'
'Lockout' isn't a bad movie, but it fails capitalize on its awesome premise. I was hoping this would be the marriage of crime, punishment and ray-guns we've all been waiting for but, sadly, it's no 'Fortress.'
A standout in 'Lockout,' however, isn't some new tech or special effect, but actor Guy Pearce taking a war horse archetype and just nailing it. John McClane beyond the stratosphere? Damn straight. He's a wise-ass, he's cranky and the zings come out of his mouth as he dodges bullets, saves the girl and covers his tracks with booby traps.
He's an intelligence operator in a future filled with shoddy CGI and subway station lockers, framed for a murder he didn't commit. He's also, of course, THE BEST THERE IS, so when the President's pesky, bleeding-heart daughter is taken hostage he's the only one who can get her out.
Maggie Grace plays the damsel, and she has a nice mix of fire and genuine clumsiness. (If the movie weren't made by holier-than-thou Europeans, one might accuse it of having some slightly reactionary sexual politics, but if we're ever to have an awesome future filled with interplanetary criminal justice, maybe B-pictures with a post-gender point of view will lead the way.) In time, however, this low rent Princess Leia and Han Solo eventually learn to trust one another to defeat the baddies.
The baddies, being used as guinea pigs for long term space exploration, have a genuine beef, but, hey, killing people and making lewd sexual gestures are no way to air a grievance. And when it is Peter Stormare doing it, it is extra lewd.
The government sends in a traditional hostage negotiator, but when that goes south Pearce gets the nod. Luckily he was just hanging out on the negotiator's shuttle and, when dispatched, kinda just...swims aboard, hoping no one is looking out the window at the time. (No one accused him of being a master planner, just quick on his feet.) Unfortunately, he is seen, and the countdown to Armageddon begins.
The action sticks to the usual air ducts and fistfights. There are some cutaways of 'Battlestar Galactica'-esque fighters and the detention satellite itself looks neat enough, but, unfortunately, 'Lockout' makes no distinctive visual mark. The film opens with a motorcycle chase that is just dreadful – I thought for certain that we would pull away to reveal that we were watching a 'Gamer'-style virtual reality, but no. Do they give Razzies for special effects? If so, we may be talking about this movie at the end of the year.
Despite these issues, I must say I welcome the Luc Besson machine of B-movies. They have a whiff of sleaze that many films made domestically avoid. By the very nature of it being in space 'Lockout' is a better movie than 'Colombiana,' but then again 'Colombiana' had Zoe Saldana in spandex. I think it's fair to call them both worth watching on your iPad when your flight gets delayed.
Jordan Hoffman was the movies editor at Hearst Digital's UGO for four years and currently contributes to SlashFilm, MTV's NextMovie and StarTrek.com. He's made two marginally successful independent movies, is a member of the New York Film Critics Online and was named IFC's Ultimate Film Fanatic of the NorthEast in 2004. Follow him on Twitter at @JHoffman6.