Before Guy Pearce ascends into the cinematic stratosphere with Ridley Scott’s long-anticipated return to sci-fi Prometheus (2012), the former Neighbours star can be seen starring opposite Maggie Grace in James Mather and Stephen St. Ledger’s Lockout (2012) – an adrenaline fuelled amalgamation of frantic thrill-per-minute action with the claustrophobic tension of a futuristic thriller.
MS One is a maximum security prison stationed in Earth’s orbit, home to over 500 dangerous criminals – a horriﬁc mix of murderers, rapists and the mentally deranged. The inmates are kept in an artiﬁcial stasis, an experimental approach to penal containment which has alerted the interest of the President’s daughter Emilie (Grace) – a strong-willed idealist concerned that the prison is little more than an experiment to explore the potentially fatal effects of stasis hibernation on deep space explorers. However, when an unprecedented and violent mutiny breaks out, Emilie ﬁnds herself held hostage by a rag-tag band of psychopaths. Enter Snow (Pearce), a rebellious and loud-mouthed agent currently under investigation for a crime he didn’t commit (!?), who’s hired by the President to rescue his daughter and clear his name.
If the above synopsis sounds familiar, it’s because Lockout is a high concept ﬁlm which feeds off regurgitated action set-pieces in order for its sci-ﬁ-tinged adventure to seem remotely plausible. From its formulaic Asian-inﬂuenced dystopian surroundings (reminiscent of Scott’s Blade Runner ) to the Jurassic Park (1993)-inspired ‘untested and potentially dangerous’ complex, Lockout isn’t afraid to wear its inﬂuences on its sleeve. However, it’s this unabashed plagiarism which ultimately makes the ﬁlm work, feeding the audience a perfectly-balanced dose of high octane escapism.
Despite being a thoroughly enjoyable romp, there are elements of Lockout which are undeniably atrocious. The level of acting on show is horrendous, with only Pearce’s star turn as the ﬁlm’s archetypal, loutish anti-hero (with a heart of gold) raising the calibre of performances out of the gutter. Even worse is the ﬁlm’s ensemble of Scottish villains, who are so one dimensional and malevolent it often makes the ﬁlm’s extra-terrestrial brawls feel like a reconnaissance mission to Glasgow’s Sauchiehall Street on a Friday night.
Directing duo St. Ledger and Mather gained notoriety thanks to their pioneering 2004 green-screen short ﬁlm Prey Alone, and unsurprisingly, CGI-heavy mise-en-scene is in bountiful supply here. Whilst creating a believable environment for the ﬁlm’s stars to perform within, Lockout’s frantic action scenes often look terrible, not dissimilar to a video game cut-scene. However, the ﬁlm’s physical sequences are far more convincing, and whilst the ﬁlm strangely feels the need to infect even its dialogue based scenes with needless violence and action, there’s no denying it makes for a satisfying viewing experience.
Comparisons with ﬁlms like Escape From New York (1981), Die Hard (1988) and Alien³ (1992) are sadly unavoidable. However, despite being riddled with hilarious action movie clichés, Lockoutremains an enjoyable piece of Saturday night escapism.