Review: Lockout Operates In, and With, Zero Gravity

Let me tell you the moment when I decided to give Lockout the benefit of the doubt, and no, it wasn’t the very gesture of taking my seat for a space-prison actioner set in the year 2079 and produced by Luc Besson (The Transporter, The Professional). It was the specific mention of “oxygen-fed weapons” guarding said space prison, a phrase casually tossed off in a hasty exchange between that prison’s warden and the visiting daughter of the President of the United States, Emilie Warnock (Maggie Grace, the taken party in Besson's own Taken).

Brought up amid much exposition and before much more silliness ensues, it’s a detail that -- whether created by Besson or one of his co-writers, James Mather and Stephen St. Leger (co-directing here) -- suggested a certain modicum of thought going into this fundamentally goofy outing. Lockout goes on to imply that gravity selectively remains whenever our heroes are leaping from spacecraft to spacecraft, and that one character’s noble self-sacrifice in the name of preserving oxygen would actually result in restoring some of it to a sealed environment.

But I digress. You came here to read about Escape from New York, But in Space, and make no mistake, that’s exactly what this movie is. Thankfully, a brisk pace and Guy Pearce’s leading turn as Thomas Jane playing Snake Plissken prove vital to lending Lockout a certain matinee-level B-movie charm. Snow (Pearce), a disgraced Secret Service agent, has been charged with murdering a government operative and stealing state secrets. The only plea bargain offered by Secret Service head Langrel (Peter Stormare, not even trying to hide his accent)? Snow has to ship off into space, sneak aboard the very same super-max facility orbiting Earth that was originally intended to imprison him and rescue poor Emilie from many recently thawed, riot-happy convicts.

Inescapable lens flares and evident PG-13 trims aside, Mather and St. Leger generally take a no-nonsense approach to this all-nonsense material, back-loading the film with the quest for Snow’s innocence on Earth (where highway chases resemble a garish blur of would-be digital wizardry) and keeping plenty of clocks a-tickin’ while our protagonist takes a lickin’. The film’s first scene sees Snow spitting out quips and blood as he endures a beating, and Pearce quickly establishes his wise-cracking and vitally endearing persona as a hardboiled knucklehead worth following into low-gravity situations. Once he and Grace finally team up, she proves to be a surprisingly suitable foil -- easily disgusted by Snow’s demeanor, of course, but viably vulnerable and nowhere near as aggravatingly dim as her previously abducted character in a Luc Besson project.

Together, they go about avoiding chief villains Alex (a cool-headed Vincent Regan) and Hydell (Joseph Gilgun, spastic to a fault), resuscitating one another with needles through the eye (don’t ask), and trying to find Snow’s brain-fried partner-in-crime among countless tattooed ruffians. Lockout may never get quite as silly-inspired as “oxygen-fed weapons” again, but it does a fine job of continually coming up with obstacle after obstacle for our two leads to dodge -- not the least of which happens to be good, old-fashioned logic.

Grade: B-