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Guy Pearce reveals impressively bulging biceps and the deadpan delivery of a Borscht Belt comic in Lockout, the new sci-fi actioner in which his character cracks more jokes than he does heads. This low-budget effort produced and co-written by genre specialist Luc Besson compensates for its cheesy special effects and production values, as well as its utter derivativeness, with redeeming doses of tongue-in-cheek humor.
Clearly inspired by John Carpenter’s Escape from New York as well as borrowing a significant plot element from its L.A.-set sequel, the film takes place in the year 2079. It begins with its hero, Snow (Pearce) — one name is much cooler than two in this sort of film — getting beaten to a pulp by a government agent (a glowering Peter Stormare) while responding to each blow with an insouciant wisecrack.
It seems that Snow, a former agent himself, has been falsely accused of a crime and is about to be sent off to begin a 30-year sentence at MS-1, a maximum-security prison in outer space. But when the hundreds of convicts suddenly wake up from their cryogenic state and take hostages, including the president’s daughter Emilie (Maggie Grace), Snow is offered his freedom in return for a solo rescue mission.
There are more complicated aspects to the plot — the prison is also home to the one man who knows the whereabouts of a mysterious briefcase than can prove Snow’s innocence — but they’re handled with such indifference by directors Stephen St. Leger and James Mather, who co-wrote the screenplay with Besson, that they’re hardly worth relating.
Landing on the orbiting prison which resembles a ‘50s era North Korean factory, Snow quickly finds himself battling the jumpsuit-wearing bad guys led by the erudite Alex (Vincent Regan) and his psychotic brother (Joseph Gilgun), who besides engaging in horrific acts of violence speaks with such a thick Scottish brogue that subtitles would have been helpful. Indeed, the prisoners include a strange preponderance of Brits, which makes one wonder about the demographics of futuristic America.
When Snow finally encounters Emilie, she’s near dead from lack of oxygen and he’s forced to revive her with a hypodermic needle to her eye. Unfortunately for him, she proves to be the sort of feisty dame who doesn’t easily cooperate with even a would-be rescuer, so the two are quickly trading insults even while fending off numerous attackers.
The action setpieces — including a motorcycle chase so heavily dependent on ineffective CGI effects that it looks like a decades-old video game — are ultimately far less memorable than the devil-may-care one-liners so breezily tossed off by Pearce. Resembling a two-eyed version of Kurt Russell’s Snake Plissken, the actor seems to be having a good time even as he’s no doubt contemplating the film’s franchise prospects.
Cast: Guy Pearce, Maggie Grace, Vincent Regan, Joseph Gilgun, Lennie James, Peter Stormare.
Directors: Stephen St. Leger, James Mather.
Screenwriters: Stephen St. Leger, James Mather, Luc Besson.
Producers: Marc Libert, Leila Smith.
Executive producers: Luc Besson, Andjelija Vlaisavljevic.
Director of photography: James Mather.
Editors: Camille Delamarre, Eamonn Power.
Production designer: Romek Delimata.
Costume designer: Olivier Beriot.
Music: Alexandre Azaria.
Rated PG-13, 95 min.
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