By Gabe Toro | The Playlist April 11, 2012 at 9:02AM
In the futurist world of "Lockout," most deadly convicts will be confined to MS-One, a maximum security prison floating in outer space. It’s not long from now (2079, to be exact) strongly suggesting the cultural shift in our society’s interest in interstellar exploration has gone from possibly exploring other planets to merely depositing our human detritus into the galaxy’s gaping maw. It’s a good thing most of these cryosleeping convicts are deranged, irredeemable nutcases, right?
Said maniacs eventually spring loose, thanks to a Secret Service agent foolishly carrying a firearm into a restricted area. Thanks to the efforts of this American cowboy, scads of European-accented baddies awaken, and despite lying in stasis, they seem pretty capable of immediate violence. This is bad news for the ship’s most prized visitor, Emily Warnock (Maggie Grace), though her medical skills obscure the baddies’ awareness that she’s also the President’s daughter.
Given that her safety is a high priority, the administration considers sending in a SWAT team, though this would mean massive casualties. Because it’s reason to believe future Presidents have seen a lot of action movies, their first plan involves covertly sending one soldier to procure his daughter. He has to be tough enough to withstand the potential combat he’ll encounter. But he also has to be expendable, should the mission go awry. Enter Snow.
Agent Snow, a former federal agent turned “traitor,” evades a sea of operatives in the film’s early moments to protect his bounty, a mysterious suitcase that gets his mentor killed. He’s taken into custody as the suitcase trades hands, and lucky for him, the suitcase’s secrets are locked away on MS-One. Given a chance at a pardon and to find his bounty, he agrees on this suicide mission. This is all first-act setup, though it stands to reason that Snow doesn’t make it onto this mission without first taking several severe beatings, each punch received before a typically snide wisecrack.
Snow is played by Guy Pearce, an actor who’s done just about everything in Hollywood, and that mileage and bemusement (not to mention marquee good looks) suits this endlessly disinterested hero. Snow boards the prison ship and immediately makes a beeline to the conveniently-attractive First Daughter, though his interests lie in rescuing the contents of his case, and getting them out of there. Her complaints about the rest of the cabinet members are answered only by Snow’s indifferent quips -- it’s as if he understands what movie he’s supposed to be in, launching immediately into action-hero mode, moving to the tune of his own overconfident jokes. Directors James Mather and Stephen St. Leger naturally attempt to deflate said confidence as much as they can, toying with Snow’s handle on gravity, allowing his technology to malfunction, and allowing him to get lost in the neverending hallways of the ship’s interior.
This is the second straight Luc Besson-produced actioner that features a foreigner (Pearce is Australian) playing an American, flaunting America’s foreign policy to put a stranglehold on vile Euro-baddies (all convicts appear to hail from England or Scotland). Unlike “Taken,” however, where (Irish) Liam Neeson left France essentially in flames, “Lockout” has a persistent sense of humor that allows the attempt to poke fun at the fact that this cockamamie strategy is the work of a future administration, and that Snow isn’t exactly as much in the resourcefulness wheelhouse as, say, Snake Plissken.
It also helps that our villains are often as fun as our heroes: the two cons that end up in charge are brothers of a decidedly different temperament. Alex (Vincent Regan) is a burly, thick, paternal type that wants the convicts to be free with minimal violence, though isn’t above snapping a few necks. And Hydell (Joseph Gilgun) a wiry, tattooed ball of energy with a fake eyeball, is all prancing menace and violent space-dementia, with love for his brother mixed in with a reckless volatility. Sadly, it looks as if a lot of their material is on the cutting-room floor, as “Lockout” appears to have been sanitized for PG-13 consumption stateside. It’s one of the few punches this ridiculous b-movie actually pulls. [B+]