Guy Pearce, Maggie Grace in Annoying, Awful ‘Lockout’

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CHICAGO – The annoying and boring “Lockout” is a pile of aggressive junk masquerading as a good time. Some critics and viewers will pretend that this is a “fun B-movie” just because it has a few over-the-top sequences (that look completely cartoonish), an absolutely ridiculous premise, and a scenery-chewing performance from the great Guy Pearce. Don’t believe them. They’re making excuses for a movie that’s totally bereft of creative storytelling and has a screenplay that most straight-to-video directors would say needs a rewrite.

“Lockout” starts promisingly in concept and the casting of its leading man. Lest you think I’m some pretentious film critic who can’t get into a well-made B-movie, the idea of an “Escape From New York” in space with the underrated Guy Pearce in the Snake Plissken role seemed like a slam dunk. How do you screw that up? Watch “Lockout” and find out.

Photo credit: Open Road

Honestly, “Lockout” never again finds the fun of its opening credits (it’s all downhill), as our tough guy hero Snow (Pearce) is introduced in a clever way – delivering barbs between punches in an interrogation room. Set in a cardboard-looking 2079, Snow has been captured by a slimy government agent named Langral (Peter Stormare) who is interrogating him with the help of another agent named Shaw (Lennie James). It turns out that Snow was just involved in a shootout involving government secrets being transferred in a metal briefcase. Someone was killed, a chase that resembled a video game cut scene ensued, there were a lot of explosions, and the case was hidden thanks to the help of a Snow compatriot named Mace (Tim Plester). Where’s the case? Did Snow kill his contact?

Meanwhile, the President’s daughter, Emilie Warnock (Maggie Grace) is visiting the landmark space prison M.S. One, a block of crazy convicts floating above Earth. Most of the convicts have been placed in a frozen state and Warnock is convinced that the rumors that they’re being experimented on are true. She goes there on a humanitarian mission. It doesn’t go well. Before you can say, it’s probably not a good idea to house unstable people in such an unstable environment (we later learn that there’s ONE guy on board who can basically keep the thing in orbit), the prisoners have escaped and taken Warnock hostage, led By Alex (Vincent Regan) and his crazy brother Hydell (Joseph Gilgun). For reasons that never really make sense, Snow is chosen as the one who will go to space and save her (and maybe even get the mysterious case since Mace has been quickly shuttled to the prison). Apparently, it’s about as easy to get back and forth to the prison as taking the red line downtown.

Photo credit: Open Road

Not a bad set-up, right? A prison full of madmen holding a humanitarian innocent hostage and the one tough guy who can get her back. Sign me up. Which is what makes it all the more baffling as “Lockout” goes along that it ended up so dull, boring, and bereft of personality. It’s not Guy Pearce’s fault. He’s trying his damnedest to make Snow interesting and he’s EASILY the best thing about the movie. The problem is that the truly horrendous script by Stephen St. Leger & James Mather & Luc Besson gives him less and less character as the film goes along. Rarely have I cared less about the outcome of a major action film. And the final action scene, which involves the most ridiculous sky jump in movie history (yes, more than “Point Break”) is so lazily produced, anti-climactic, and stupid that one feels like the people who made the movie actually got less interested as it went along as well. Oh, well, we have to end this thing, don’t we?

“Lockout” is proof that concept and casting are not enough without execution. Guy Pearce rules. He’s consistently one of our most interesting actors in big parts (“Memento,” “The Proposition,” “Mildred Pierce”) and small (“The King’s Speech,” “The Hurt Locker”). It would be great to see him in a major action success. He’s better than “Lockout” ever deserved. And the fact is that if someone lesser had gotten the part, this junk would never even have made it to theaters. It reeks of straight-to-video in production value, supporting cast, and storytelling. Swap out Guy Pearce for Wesley Snipes and the exact same movie is premiering on Netflix.

Perhaps that’s what makes me angrier about “Lockout” than most bad movies. It should have worked (although making it PG-13 instead of R was a huge mistake as it drains the piece of most of its potential tension by neutralizing any actual danger). Great idea, great lead actor – I was with it for the first act. And then it starts to dawn on you that it’s just not going anywhere creative. The action, the characters, the dialogue – none of it entertains. It’s boring. And it takes a special skill to make a film about a prison riot in outer space this boring. In that sense, “Lockout” is actually quite an accomplishment. But only in that sense.

“Lockout” stars Guy Pearce, Maggie Grace, Peter Stormare, Lennie James, Joseph Gilgun, and Vincent Regan. It was directed by James Mather & Stephen St. Leger. It is rated PG-13 and opens on April 13, 2012. content director Brian Tallerico

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