Super-special prisons make for fun stories, but you have to admit they're hardly necessary in real life.
Between the bars, the locks, the guards and the dogs with a grad school education in making things bleed, your typical state pen isn't exactly a bustling highway for fugitive escapes. How long did it take John Shawshank to dig to freedom in The Shawshank Redemption? Years. An amount of time that was even longer than the movie itself.
Really, the whole reason jailbreaks are exciting is because they're so rare. The opposite reason is why nobody makes movies about trips to the center of the Earth: we've all been there. Still, it's sometimes fun to pretend the very worse convicts can only be held by a crazy double-prison. Usually, it's an island. Rarely, it's also a volcano. In Lockout, it's outer space.
In the late 21st century, ex-CIA agent Guy Pearce is framed for murder and treason. He's to be sent to MS-One, a maximum security prison with no hope of escape -- because it's in high Earth's orbit.
The president's daughter, Maggie Grace, is already at the prison on a humanitarian mission. When the prisoners break from their stasis cells, she's taken hostage. The Secret Service quickly offers Pearce a new fate. Infiltrate the station and bring Grace home safe, and he'll go free.
Escape from New York meets No Escape, in other words, which you'd think would result in some kind of matter/anti-matter explosion of shanks and toilet-tank prison wine. That's why I always wear a hefty wooden barrel to the movies. That and for the style.
And like Escape from New York, Lockout is principally good because of its main character. Pearce is established very quickly as a roughneck rebel who casually insults his interrogators whenever they take a break from punching him in the face. Co-written by Luc Besson, whose track record for fun action movies (The Professional, The Transporter, Taken) is as unbeatable as Vampire Bruce Willis, Lockout follows Besson's typical route of tough guys unwillingly roped into problems so huge even flying spin-kicks can't solve them.
It's typically fast-paced and funny, and Pearce is a great choice for the wryly stoic lead role. Partly because his biceps these days could qualify for the titular role in The Nutcracker. But also because he has a deadpan way about him that works even with his lesser quips.
Grace, however, isn't as good a fit. I liked her plenty as the kidnapped daughter in Taken, but I loved everyone in Taken, including the guys whose part consisted of nothing more than having the side of Liam Neeson's hand imprinted on their throats. Despite some funny moments, I didn't buy her here, particularly her chemistry with Pearce.
On the direction front, co-directors James Mather and Stephen St. Leger (who also co-wrote) get their first shot at a full-length flick. It's always fun to see new directors at work, and not just for the chance they'll die horribly. I like finding new talent just as much. These two already are steadily competent with a good eye for visuals. Their action scenes sometimes feel strangely abbreviated, though, as if moments are missing, which deflates some tension. On the other hand, maybe they're actually so awesome I blacked out mid-sequence and missed all missile-bots and blimp-riding Godzillas.
Or maybe they had to trim the action scenes to fit in all those zigzagging, less-than-clear plot points at the very end. Despite veering perilously close to the Confusion Nebula, Lockout is briskly entertaining with snappy dialogue and a host of characters at constant odds with each other. Whatever its flaws, it's a fine way to kill an afternoon.