There’s an art to crafting the perfect terrible science fiction B-movie: The acting has to be flat, the lines devoid of any semblance of human speech, the plot so nonsensical that you find yourself enjoying the impossible leaps of logic. Finally, despite knowing it’s bad, you must leave the theater entertained, joking with your friends about the absurdity and misplaced confidence the filmmakers have in their product.
By that metric Lockout, the latest endeavor from executive producer Luc Besson, is one of the most fun terrible films in years –one so obviously destined for RiffTrax that the production team should’ve released it with snarky commentary in place.
Basically if you like the idea of Taken, only in space and not quite as good, then this is the film for you.
Based on an idea by Besson, Lockout opens on a sarcastic United States covert agent named Snow (played by Guy Pearce) being interrogated about a failed mission: a missing briefcase containing sensitive information could expose corruption at the heart of Snow’s agency. Needless to say, Snow’s bosses, the slimy Langral (Peter Stormare) and the paternalistic Shaw (Lennie James), want it back. Framed for the death of a fellow agent, Snow’s only alibi and partner Mace (Tim Plester) has been sent to MS One, a maximum-security prison orbiting Earth where inmates are put into a deep sleep.
Coincidentally, the President’s daughter Emilie (Maggie Grace of Taken and Lost) is also on the space station investigating rumors that prisoners are being used test cryostasis by the corporation that operates MS One. We learn that, for some reason, the company also runs Emilie’s charity and that she, for some reason, is tasked with signing off on the prison facility.
The visit goes wrong when her hilariously incompetent Secret Service agents allow an unfrozen psychopath to get his hands on a gun, endangering the entire station, as apparently the world’s “most secure” prison has no locks and only one guard.
And so Snow is sent in on a suicide mission to rescue Emilie using any means necessary! He locks and loads, flexes a bicep, and heads off to save the President’s daughter and shoot a lot of people in the process.
Once you get past the Taken-in-orbit premise, the point of Lockout is to watch Guy Pearce get punched in the face -- and that is where the movie is at its best. Snow’s unwavering machismo keeps the action rocketing forward even as the rest of the film devolves into an unintelligible jumble. There’s no problem Snow can’t punch, quip at, or run away from, and Pearce is by far the best and most watchable actor on the screen. Unlike the rest of the cast, Pearce seems to understand Lockout is silly, and he milks every second of it, a big grin inviting you to share an eye roll at the film’s expense.
The second most enjoyable thing is how deliciously terrible the U.S. Secret Service is at its job. They lose the President’s daughter pretty much the minute they step foot on the station, and their state-of-the art equipment breaks every time Snow uses it. Snow’s bosses bungle vital step after vital step, and everyone involved seems to be winging it. If this were a game where you drank every time the government screwed up, you’d be plastered by the halfway point (something I encourage to get through the rest of Lockout).
But the main problem of Lockout -- that is, besides script, plot, cheesy special effects, and every actor who isn’t Pearce -- is that it never fully embraces its camp. While the premise indicates insanity on the level of Snakes an a Plane, Lockout really exists in a perpetual state of Laser Blast, a movie that sounds like it should be absolutely amazing, yet in execution is sort of boring. Directors/co-writers Stephen St. Leger and James Mather seem to have no idea that they have potential camp gold on their hands, and they instead have create an exploitation movie that thinks it’s not an exploitation movie.
On the good-guy side, way too much time is spent discussing incomprehensible plot changes and agency minutia. On the bad-guy side, other than the wonderfully deranged Hydell (Joseph Gilgun), the prisoners are a lackluster group that spends most of its time in earnest negotiations with the good guys. Far too often you find yourself silently praying for Hydell or Snow to shove one of the babbling idiots out an airlock, and far too often your prayers go unanswered. Ultimately, the result is a film that is perfect fodder for Mystery Science Theater 3000: crazy enough to be an enjoyable watch, but just bad enough that you need some sort of running commentary to keep you in your seat.
Lockout opens today nationwide.