Friday, April 13, 2012

Escape From New York But In Space: Lockout



This review originally appeared on the San Francisco Appeal.

Lockout is a really bad title for a movie. I was pretty sure about this going in, since I couldn't even remember the title until I got to the theater, but I was positive about it being a crappy title after I saw the movie and still kept calling it Lockdown.

Are movie titles of late so boring so they can be easily translated for foreign markets? How I long for the days of awesome B-movies like Caged Heat, or The Weak and the Wicked.

And what's even worse about the title is it tells you nothing about the movie, aside from some vague notion that a prison might be involved. So, for those foreign markets looking to change it up, here are a few suggestions: How about Space Peril, or Space Prison Breakout, or Space Break!, or Snow In Space. Or just plain Escape From New York But In Space, because really, that's what this movie is.

Tell me if this plot sounds familiar: It's the future, and the old types of prisons are just plain passe. Now prisoners are placed into "stasis," (AKA frozen), and their bodies are held in huge orbiting prisons up in space. Unfortunately, things go haywire at the same time the President's daughter is visiting the prison on a "humanitarian" mission, (to make sure the prisoners aren't being used as lab rats). She's held hostage, and the only person who can save her is an ex CIA Agent named Snow.

So, the space prison subs for New York, Snake Plisken is now Snow, (Guy Pearce), and the President is now the President's daughter, (Maggie Grace). There's also a missing briefcase that plays a big part, although, just like in Escape From New York, it turns out to be nothing more than a MacGuffin.

And yet, even though there is nothing original about this movie, I liked it. I liked it from its first five minutes, when Snow is seen getting repeatedly punched in the face while mouthing off about his interrogator's wife. I continued to like it when a chase scene turned completely cartoonish, looking, literally, like something out of a video game. And I continued to like it once the setting changed to that space prison full of crazed criminals, headed by two Irish dudes with such thick accents I was desperately wishing for some closed captioning.

Yes, this is another movie in which some guy must save Maggie Grace, but thankfully in this one she's more than a quivering mass of female flesh, and actually knows how to shoot a gun and take a few punches herself.

But the real revelation here is Guy Pearce. I've just never really dug the guy, even in good movies like Memento and L.A. Confidential. He always seems so stiff and boring. But in Lockout he takes on the Snake Plisken/Han Solo role with aplomb, and manages to deliver all his smart-ass lines, (and really, almost every sentence out of his mouth is something clever or smack-filled), with expert comedic timing; a lesser actor would cause eye-rolling instead of laughter.

The whole thing ultimately feels like a foreign production that somehow got major U.S. distribution. There are a lot of international actors here, (Grace; Pearce; Peter Stomare; Vincent Regan; Lennie James), and it's based on "an original idea by Luc Besson," (although, that should probably read: "based on an idea Luc Besson had after watching Escape From New York"). With a better title, it could be one of those movies you'd see in a bargain stack at Amoeba, or a local rental place, take home, watch, and be pleasantly surprised by. But who's gonna give a DVD called Lockdown Lockout a second look?

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