Letter From The Editor - Issue 59 - October 2017

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Writing Fantasy

  
At The Picture Show
April 2012

Lockout

Shooting blanks

Despite a nice role for the underappreciated Guy Pearce, 'Lockout' fails to cash in on its charmingly B-grade material

Lockout
Open Road Films
Director: James Mather and Stephen St. Leger
Screenplay: James Mather, Stephen St. Leger and Luc Besson
Starring: Guy Pearce, Maggie Grace, Peter Stormare, Joseph Gilgun, Vincent Regan, Lennie James, Tim Plester and Jacky Ido
Rated PG-13 / 1 hour, 35 minutes
Opened April 13, 2012
(out of four)

I've occasionally wondered why Guy Pearce never became more of a star. Perhaps it's still too early for an official career prognosis, but it seems like it should have happened by now. From his early breakout in L.A. Confidential to a defining role in Memento, he seemed to have Leading Man written all over him. But for one reason or another, it never materialized. Since then, he's commanded the screen in the likes of The Proposition, Mildred Pierce and Animal Kingdom, but no real stardom has come of it.

Having seen Lockout, I now think maybe Pearce just didn't have enough roles like this one to help make his name, or shape his image. Seeing him so easily slip into the part of the Wisecracking Rogue, it's clear this persona could easily have carried him to A-list status under the right circumstances. Maybe he blended too well in those other movies.

But indeed, Lockout proves he can carry a mediocre B-movie just as well as he can any of the more respectable fare (including small roles in back-to-back Best Picture winners) he's been toiling away in. Here, he inhabits worn-out territory - the sarcastic rebel who plays by his own rules and doesn't take guff from anyone - and nails it. (The disembodied voiceover in the trailer made me laugh: "There's one man who can do this job - but he's a loose cannon!" It's practically a self-parody.)

Filmmakers James Mather and Stephen St. Leger are fully aware of the inherent lack of seriousness that comes with this territory. In fact, they're almost too aware, giving their antihero one-liner after one-liner, wisecrack after wisecrack, until at a certain point the gimmick winds up defining the character completely. Still, Pearce sells it as well as he possibly can. So whenever he gets a great line, we love him for it. When he gets a bad one . . . well, we groan, but we at least still appreciate the cocky attitude and the comic timing.

Both skills are, by necessity, in abundance, because there's no complexity to a character like this - nor does there need to be. As is the custom, the rogue - in this case, a special-ops agent named Snow - finds himself with his back against the wall, and with no choice but to play the hero. He's been framed (or at least wrongfully convicted) for a murder he didn't commit, the bloody result of a mission that went horribly wrong.

The trial was virtually nonexistent, the sentencing was lightning-quick (apparently they've done away with due process completely by 2079 - so that's something to look forward to), and all the bad news is sealed and delivered by the film's de-facto villain, a Secret Service heavy whose name, the Internet has just informed me, is Langral. He's played by Peter Stormare, who as usual exudes a perpetual sense of menace (albeit with a comedic inflection) while being his generally awesome, evil-looking self.

As luck would have it, Snow is given one last opportunity to get back in the government's good graces. Funny what rescuing the President's daughter from certain doom can do for one's rap sheet.

The daughter, a bleeding heart named Emile Warnock (Maggie Grace, who still can't act), is on a humanitarian mission to MS One, a maximum-security prison on a space station orbiting Earth. (And by "maximum security," I mean "almost no security." More on that later.) Emilie is researching the adverse effects that the prison, which utilizes the controversial tactic of "cryo-statis," may have on its inmates.

With precious little Secret Service detail shadowing her, Emilie unwittingly becomes a hostage in a definitively hostile takeover of the prison. Led by Alex (Vincent Regan) and the rabid, unhinged, Travis Bickle-inspired Hydell (Joseph Gilgun), the prisoners' revolt hinges on their ability (and willingness) to crash the prison to the ground unless their demands are met. (What are their demands? Who knows. But I assume "getting out alive" is near the top of the list.) As it turns out, taking over the prison is a remarkably easy task (they should have thought of this earlier!); one prisoner hits a few buttons, another takes out a couple of guards, and that's that. (Surely a space prison would have a failsafe of some kind? A watchtower/barbed wire equivalent? But I digress.)

Snow's mission, should he choose to accept it? Break into the prison, get Emilie out alive, fly her off the station in a secret little escape pod. Easy as that. Oh, except for the added wrinkle that Snow has his own unfinished business waiting for him on MS One.

A movie like Lockout can be a great antidote, both to more serious fare and to the more overblown, expensive pictures that dominate screens for much of the year. There is little pretense to the film, and it has only the most modest of escapist ambitions - but neither does it have much creative juice of its own. Nor, unfortunately, does it have the guts to really go all out with its premise. It lacks the untamed, reckless quality that can turn a paint-by-numbers genre exercise into a vibrant, gloriously trashy experience. (A fun recent example/guilty pleasure: Neil Marshall's Doomsday.)

Mather and St. Leger (not to mention co-writer and producer Luc Besson) never seem to know how far to take it, how strange they can allow themselves to be, how many creative risks they can allow themselves to take. The result is a timid movie that would rather blend in with its predecessors than be defined by its own idiosyncracies. For all the pulpy material the filmmakers have, they never really put their foot on the gas. Come on, guys, this is B-movie goodness - indulge yourselves! Let yourselves eat cake!

Read more by Chris Bellamy


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