The B-movie is an interesting concept. In their heyday, B-movies were the reels that were sent along with more well-known films as the less attractive, low-budget addition to a double features, a sort of redheaded stepchild of major motion pictures. In the modern vernacular, it’s become a genre all of its own, typically referring to low-budget fare that still provides some degree of entertainment.
Lockout is the perfect example of such a movie. Produced and scripted by Luc Besson, it’s a goofy, ridiculous film that would likely be better suited to a discount DVD bin, or the type of film that later in the year Netflix will recommend because you watched Independence Day and got some sort of perverse pleasure out of it, and the Netflix algorithms had run out of better ideas. It was made on a relatively modest (by wide-release science fiction movie standards, anyway) of $20 million, and visually that money’s pretty well-spent. It’s loud and fast and things go boom, there’s lots of running and lens flares up the goddamn wazoo, there’s snarky heroes and plucky damsels and oh-so-evil bad guys. It shamelessly borrows from better films like its obvious inspiration (and a classic modern B-movie), Escape From New York as well as practically every other “trapped in a tin can” movie, only with homicidal inmates instead of aliens or monsters.
The story, if you haven’t gleaned it from the trailers which are really just a 120 second encapsulation, is about a supermax prison… in space!. The president’s spunky do-gooder daughter Emily (Maggie Grace) is aboard conducting a research project about the prisoners’ treatment, when all hell breaks loose and through a series of increasingly incredulous coincidences, all 500+ prisoners are released. They promptly slaughter most of the staff and take control. Oh no!
And of course, only one man can stop them! That man is the world-weary, acerbic and misanthropic former special agent called Snow (Guy Pearce), wrongfully accused and oh, it so does not matter. It really doesn’t. Snow sneaks into the orbiting giant prison, crawls around in duct work, beats a bunch of inmates up, shoots even more of them, all in an effort to rescue Emily. Meanwhile the inmates, led by the psychotic Alex (played by Welsh “that guy” Vincent Regan) and his even more-psychotic brother Hydell (Joseph Gilgun, aka Rudy from “Misfits”), are on a hunting mission to find them. All the while there are political machinations at the neighboring space station where the rescue is being coordinated by a bunch of shifty government guys including Lennie James as Shaw and the always-welcome Peter Stormare as Langral.
But none of that matters, because although Lockout, directed by first-timers Stephen St. Leger and James Mather, has only the barest sense of a coherent plot. It’s haphazard and silly, and there are quite a few plot threads that simply never get resolved, Very Important Discoveries that clearly aren’t that damn important since they’re mentioned once and then forgotten. It’s ten pounds of dumb in a wet five pound bag, practically bursting at the seams with stupid.
Are you all still with me? Good. Because here’s the thing — Lockout? Kind of a shitload of fun. Oh, you’re not going to like yourself afterwards, but damn if it doesn’t manage to engage and entertain every now and then. It’s salvaged in no small part due to Pearce, one of the most neglected and awesome actors around. His Snow touches upon every jaded tough guy trope there is, yet he still brings a terrific sense of wit and humor in to accompany his arrogant bravado. Physically, he’s equally up to the task and as he convincingly plows through dozens of angry, ugly lunatics. And surprisingly, Maggie Grace is a decent foil for him. Grace has never particularly impressed me — she was dull and insipid in “Lost,” and then she did that remake of The Fog with that goofy Clark Kent wannabe, and then she began her damsel in distress career in earnest with Taken. But here she breaks the mold a bit, and manages to be sassy and smart and yes, even funny. The supporting actors all perform capably as well, particularly Stormare, who could play this role in a coma.
So what are we left with? We’re left with a B-movie in the truest sense of its modern definition. It’s cheap and dumb and clumsily written, less homage and more cinematic hustle job. It explodes all over the place, big scary dudes beat the fuck out of the good guy, and he beats just a little bit more fuck out of them. There’s a quick-witted damsel, eeeevil bad guys (you know they’re bad because of the tattoos), underhanded not-quite good guys, and a messy helping of stupid spilling out the top and running down the side. Lockout is not a good film — in fact, it’s frequently an exhausting, eye-rolling exercise in exasperation. But you gotta hand it to the players — they give it their all regardless, and as a result, well, maybe Netflix won’t be quite as crazy as you think when it shows up on your screen.