By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
What a Guy.
Guy Pearce, that is, who takes on the wisecracking tough-guy role that we’ve seen a few too many times over the years and breathes new life into it in the thriller Lockout, which ends up being a lot more fun that it has any right to be.
Don’t get me wrong: Lockout is no knockout. And it’s a bit of a knockoff. But as knock-down, drag-out action thrillers go, it’s got its knockabout appeal.
Hey, don’t knock it.
Lockout is a science fiction action fantasy set in what we like to call the “near future” — actually, 2079.
Pearce stars as a loose cannon named Snow, an ex-government agent wrongly convicted of a crime he didn’t commit (conspiracy to commit espionage against the United States) who is facing a 30-year sentence in M.S. One, a maximum-security prison in outer space that is orbiting the earth.
But he’s offered his freedom in exchange for the death-defying rescue, all by his lonesome — otherwise known as a suicide mission — of the daughter of the US president, played by Maggie Grace, from M. S. One where she, while on a goodwill mission, has been taken hostage by murderous, rioting prisoners who have taken over the facility.
Directors James Mather and Steven St. Leger (who bill themselves as Saint & Mather), who also co-wrote the film with producer Luc Besson, make their feature-film directorial debut with a script that throws caution and coincidence and sometimes logic to the winds, and can be callous and dismissive about human life.
But it works most of the time by joyfully embracing its own sheer preposterousness.
The screenplay at least tries to go beyond the generic string of lowest-common-denominator action sequences that an undemanding audience would normally be satisfied with. The focus here isn’t on the sets or the CGI work, but on the characters and their interaction.
So, when it isn’t registering like a glorified video game, the film (its title chosen over such earlier working titles as District 8, Maximum Security One, and Escape from M.S. One) boasts exhilarating energy and narrative momentum.
Lockout has its tongue in its cheek to such an extent that it sometimes seems a parody of its genre. English-born Aussie Pearce is a solid leading man (LA Confidential, Memento) with sufficient gravitas, but this one’s a big change of pace for him.
His role may be written as a one-note caricature, but Pearce is very funny, piercing the façade with deadpan line readings that entertain on their own.
Throughout all the self-conscious mayhem, he exhibits a penchant for sardonic retorts, which makes him right for a piece that allows him to spit out the one-liners even when he’s being beaten to a pulp, which happens frequently.
But he gets to display comedy chops in a way that that he has never been given the chance to do before. Somebody give this guy a franchise!
Grace — who played Liam Neeson’s daughter in Taken and will again in Taken 2 — also holds her own opposite Pearce in their sparring, budding, insulting, flirting relationship. Their chemistry, as their adversarial alliance develops, is the film’s most enjoyable element, balancing out the film’s action excesses.
So we’ll escape from 2½ stars out of 4. With Pearce as the go-to Guy, Lockout is entertaining in spite of itself.