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Perhaps there’ll come a time a few years from now, once the bludgeoning monotony of pandemic confinement has (hopefully) become a fading memory, when the claustrophobic agitation of Doug Liman’s smugly self-satisfied heist thingamajig, Locked Down, could be vaguely amusing. Or not. A lo-fi treatment of a high-concept crime rom-com deficient in sexual chemistry, laughs and suspense, this is a grating stunt in which actors who ought to know better, led by Anne Hathaway and Chiwetel Ejiofor, play synthetically movie-ish characters meant to tickle us with the all-too-real trials of the COVID era. If you still think frozen screens and kids disrupting Zoom business calls are a hoot, it’s all yours.
Perhaps what’s most disappointing about this HBO Max Original is that it’s scripted by Steven Knight, who wrote and directed a brilliant pandemic-compliant, single-setting drama, Locke, seven years ahead of schedule, in 2013. But Knight is a wildly inconsistent writer. For every Dirty Pretty Things, Eastern Promises or Peaky Blinders, there’s a dud like Allied or Serenity, the latter another honorable mention on Hathaway’s wall of shame. It doesn’t help that the plot here, with its holes the size of canyons, has echoes of Ocean’s 8, an unnecessary franchise extension in which a delectably self-satirizing Hathaway was one of the highlights.
RELEASE DATE Jan 14, 2021
Despite his bona fide indie roots with Swingers, Liman has grown accustomed to the perks of the big-budget studio movie. So he deserves credit for attempting to carve out some street cred by marshaling a bunch of over-qualified talent to slum it in a lean project conceived and executed in lockdown, the majority of it shot in a London townhouse until the limp heist action kicks in late in the game at Harrods.
There are faint echoes of one of the director’s biggest hits, Mr. & Mrs. Smith, in the idea of a couple whose romantic glow has dimmed, finding themselves on opposite sides of a professional assignment. In the earlier film they joined forces for survival, here for criminal profit, in each case predictably saving their relationship.
The big difference is that Mr. & Mrs. Smith got a boost from the smoldering charisma and chemistry of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, whereas Hathaway and Ejiofor don’t stand a chance. Their characters are such contrived cutouts — she’s a cool corporate executive, apparently with the soul of an artist; he’s a reformed rebel dealt a rough hand by fate but guided by the heart of a poet — that every overwritten line exposes their phoniness. Not to mention some clanging monologues that make you look away from the screen in embarrassment.
What’s even worse is that the setup is such a concentrated injection of lockdown angst as experienced by these unlikeable, artificial people, the movie never recovers from its distancing start. “Now there is literally zero purpose to my life,” declares Ejiofor’s Paxton on a Zoom call with his half-brother David (Dulé Hill) and the latter’s sculptor partner Maria (Jazmyn Simon) in New York. “We’re all locked in a fucking prison of psychological hell chains, the flames of burning aloneness….” Blah, blah, blah.
Hinting at the rupture of his relationship with Linda (Hathaway), he reveals that she’s somewhere in the house, while continuing to rant about his bitterness, anger and the friends with whom he’s fallen out over COVID conspiracy theories. This is all before Linda finds him in the garage on the beloved motorcycle he’s been forced to sell, with an exhaust hose attached, claiming he was about to take a mock-suicide selfie, “an amusing expression of despair.” Having fun yet?
Despite being furloughed, miserable Paxton gets a call from his boss at a van delivery service, Malcolm — played by Ben Kingsley, rehashing his elevated East End wide boy from Sexy Beast with a religious bent — about picking up valuables from a string of London department stores forced to shutter due to lockdown. The trickiest part of the job involves a £3 million haul of jewelry and accessories from Harrods, including the famed Harris Diamond.
Meanwhile, Linda, who is U.K. CEO for some kind of indeterminate multinational company with interests in media, high-end retail and insurance, does not relish having to lay off a number of senior staff. Her boss, head of Chicago HQ Guy (Ben Stiller), is comfortably holed up in Vermont, vexed that Linda refused to read his BS dismissal statement about how the departing execs are all family. And company overlord Essien (Claes Bang, sparking things up for a second with some sexy authority) is more interested in flirting with Linda, whom he wants to relocate to New York to run East Coast operations. She is underwhelmed by that prospect and is contemplating quitting once lockdown is behind them.
Linda’s colleagues keep praising her detachment, her ability to “carry out the hard tasks without too much feeling getting in the way.” But Hathaway plays her as such an abrasively fidgety neurotic that none of that really jibes. Knight drops in meaningless details like a reminder from Maria about their drunken night of lesbian frisson, as if that’s supposed to give Linda some complexity. And Liman has her crazy-dancing around the garden to Adam and the Ants to reveal the wild child suffocated by the corporate robot. But everything about the character shows the writer’s hand, never any actual human insight.
Ejiofor fares no better. He gets stuck with male-centric observations like comparing Linda being “unhappy in an obviously female way” to his own “castrated, male” unhappiness. And he stirs her waning sexual desire for him by returning from an exultant excursion, speeding through the deserted London streets on his bike and evading the cops in pursuit. Yes, the parched businesswoman really is turned on by her leather-jacketed man rediscovering the lost bandito of his younger years.
There are what seems like hours of this stuff, punctuated by blasts of Beethoven, so much of it involving video communications that you keep waiting for Room Rater to weigh in on all the ugly angles. The cutesiness of some of the lockdown humor is frankly insufferable.
Linda (out the window to neighbor across the street): “How are you?”
Neighbor: “Terrible. You?”
Let’s just skip over Paxton reciting poems in the middle of the street as unsolicited neighborhood entertainment, or Linda banging saucepans during the nightly health-worker salute like she’s Courtney Love trashing a hotel room.
By the time Linda and Paxton put their heads together on the diamond heist and the movie finally gets outside the house for an extended stretch, any investment in this pair — and whether they end up reinvigorated as a couple and 3 million pounds richer — has been pretty much been snuffed out. There’s some visual interest in seeing the underground tunnels and vaults at Harrods, not to mention watching workers pack up the world-famous food hall. But the endless talk becomes more stultifying and the plotting increasingly preposterous, aided by too many convenient assists from Linda’s previous employment at Harrods. Her quick-thinking charm offensive when an unexpected arrival threatens to blow their plan is the biggest stretch. And the agreement between Linda and Paxton to wait until they’re in the moment to commit to the crime just makes the whole thing more laborious.
The name cast, which also includes Mark Gatiss as one of the associates fired by Linda, Lucy Boynton as an old Harrods colleague, Stephen Merchant as store security and Mindy Kaling as a Zoom drop-by, seldom escapes the self-consciousness imposed by Knight’s writing. This is a script that should have been buried in a vault more impenetrable than the one at Harrods, and an enterprise that does nothing to instill faith in the possibility of enjoyable pandemic movies.
Production companies: AGC Studios, Storyteller Productions, in association with Hypnotic, Nebulaster
Distributor: HBO Max, WarnerMedia
Cast: Anne Hathaway, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Stephen Merchant, Mindy Kaling, Lucy Boynton, Mark Gatiss, Claes Bang, Dulé Hill, Jazmyn Simon, Sam Spruell, Frances Ruffelle, Ben Stiller, Ben Kingsley
Director: Doug Liman
Screenwriter: Steven Knight
Producers: P.J. van Sandwijk, Alison Winter, Michael Lesslie
Executive producers: Doug Liman, Steven Knight, Stuart Ford, Miguel A. Pulos Jr., Alastair Burlingham, Richard Whelan
Director of photography: Remi Adefarasin
Production designer: Laura Conway Gordon
Costume designer: Lucy Bowring
Music: John Powell
Editor: Saar Klein
Casting: Joseph Middleton
Rated R, 118 minutes
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