Ah, France – one of many countries that I hope to visit before I die. In the world of film, France gave birth to some of the most influential directors of all time. The “autership” of Jean-Luc Godard (“Breathless”), Robert Bresson (“A Man Escaped”), Francois Truffaut (“The 400 Blows”) and Jean-Pierre Melville (“Le Samourai”), just to name a few, have been interwoven into modern film so seamlessly that even the most jaded of moviegoers are unaware that most of the cinematic styles and techniques that amaze them were done before by these directors. Had it not been for the “French New Wave”, there wouldn’t be a Martin Scorsese (“Goodfellas”), or a Jim Jarmusch (“Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai” which was inspired by “Le Samourai”), or a Steven Soderbergh (“Ocean’s Eleven, Twelve & Thirteen”), or to a greater extent, a Quentin Tarantino (“Kill Bill Vol. 1 & 2). Back in France, many directors were influenced by the “French New Wave”. One of these directors is a little-known individual named Luc Besson.
Active in the film industry during the mid-80s, Luc Besson was introduced to the American art-house circuit with his feature film “Nikita” (or “La Femme Nikita” as it’s commonly known). With its story of a young female criminal named…you guessed it… Nikita being transformed physically and mentally into a hardened assassin, “Nikita” was a success in the box office. It also spawned a forgettable American remake (“Point of No Return”), a cult TV series (“La Femme Nikita” – which I never quite got into when it aired on television) and a currently-airing remake of that series (“Nikita” – which I do NOT watch, not because it stars the attractive Maggie Q as the title character, but because it’s on CW11, the cable station responsible for fucking up the Superman lore with the 10 (TEN?! DIEZ?!!) season ‘soap opera’ “Smallville”).
But it was his next two offerings – the BRILLIANT action drama “Leon” (or “The Professional” as it’s commonly known) and the wildly entertaining sci-fi adventure “The Fifth Element” that made Luc Besson a household name. These films, both critical and commercial successes, helped launch the Hollywood careers of Jean Reno, Natalie Portman and Milla Jovovich. Today, Luc and his production company EuropaCorp has become synonymous for producing stylized, action-packed, (oftentimes) over-the-top, French/American collaborations like Jet Li’s “Kiss of the Dragon” and “Unleashed”, Jason Statham’s “Transporter” trilogy, Liam Neeson’s “Taken”, John Travolta’s “From Paris with Love” and Zoe Saldana’s “Colombiana”.
And here we have their latest offering – the sci-fi action flick “Lockout”. I put the word “action” in bold since this was promised in the film’s trailer. I’ll explain later. Anyhoo, “Lockout” is NOT directed by Luc Besson but it is written by him and the two directors of the film – James Mather and Stephen St. Leger (whoever the hell they are). What interested me about the film was not its unoriginal plot, or its rehashing of elements from the superior sci-fi films of yesteryear, but in its poster. At the top, you can see the following text: “From the producers of ‘Taken'”. Through extensive research (which only took a few minutes, thanks to Wikipedia and IMDB), I learned that “Lockout” was produced by Marc Libert and Leila Smith. “Taken” was produced by Didier Hoarau (executive producer), Franck Lebreton (line producer), Michael Mandaville (American line producer) and Luc Besson (uncredited). Marc and Leila, the “producers of ‘Taken'”, aren’t even in the fucking credits of “Taken”! So why couldn’t the distributors simply say “From the company that brought you ‘Taken’ “? Why give credit to two individuals who were in no way (according to Wikipedia and IMDB) involved in making that film in the first place? Only Luc Besson knows. The rest of the world, myself included, really couldn’t give a shit.
But I digress.
In the year 2079, an ex-CIA operative named Snow is arrested for the murder of an undercover agent named Frank Armstrong (probably the great grandson of Neil Armstrong…..HA HA HA…hmm) who has uncovered evidence of another agent selling secrets concerning a space program. Snow’s contact Mace is the only person who knows the location of Frank’s briefcase which contains the secret information. The problem is, Mace was recently arrested and sent to MS One, a maximum security space penitentiary which houses 500 – yes, FIVE HUNDRED – prisoners (even though they show far less in the film). And this, ladies and gents, is the solution to overcrowded prisons. Send the guilty to outer space! Yeeeeeeah.
Meanwhile, Emilie Warnock, the daughter of the President of the United States (who’s a white man – which totally destroyed my dream of an African-American president in 2079….sigh!) goes to MS One to investigate claims that “stasis” (or a gas-induced state of sleep) has mentally affected the prisoners. Emilie questions one of the prisoners, a psychotic Scotsman named Hydell, about the effects of stasis. Hydell, of course, grabs the gun from the security guard behind him, shoots him, and runs amok. He releases all the prisoners, including his less-psychotic but still cold-blooded brother Alex, and starts a riot. For reasons unexplained, the personnel in the L.O.P.D. – or Low Orbit Police Department (facepalm), located in a lower section of MS One, do not intervene in stopping the riot. I think it has to do with the safety of the President’s daughter or some shit. Anyhoo, Snow is requested by the Government to hop on a rocket and save Emilie from the 5,000 sticky fingers (pinkies and thumbs also) of the 500 prisoners who’ve taken control of MS One.
Snow – Guy Pearce
Emilie Warnock – Maggie Grace
Scott Langral – Peter Stormare
Harry Shaw – Lennie James
Alex – Vincent Regan
Hydell – Joseph Gilgun
Mace – Tim Plester
MY THOUGHTS: If you’re knowledgeable of sci-fi films, then you’ll quickly realize that the premise of a man being hired to sneak into a futuristic prison to save the President’s daughter is anything but original. It’s been done before in the still-watchable 1981 cult classic “Escape from New York”, whose bad-ass, eye-patch-sporting hero ‘Snake’ Plissken inspired the character Solid Snake from the Metal Gear video-game series. Even the concept of a bunch of criminals taking control of an aerial, or in this case, space craft has been done before in an adrenaline rush of a movie called “Con Air” which delivered one of the greatest lines in film history spoken by post-Academy Award winner Nicolas Cage: “Put the bunny back in the box”. Yes, I was being sarcastic. The point is, “Lockout” rips bits and pieces of action and sci-fi films from the early 80s to today. But for some reason (perhaps the PG-13 rating), the film doesn’tentirelytake itself seriously. However, if the film had set out to be a mindless action film, or even an action film for that matter, I would’ve forgiven the formulaic approach of “Lockout”.
Which leads to my main quarrel with the film. From the first few minutes of the film, which begins with an interrogation scene involving Guy Pearce (in which he’s periodically slugged by a cop, and in one of the film’s few attempts at originality, an opening credit is displayed on the screen when Guy’s head is knocked to the left side of the frame) and ends with a brief, and ridiculously fake, chase involving Guy Pearce on motorcycle, you’re expecting a film loaded with action. And as I mentioned earlier, this was what was “promised” in the film’s trailer. But to me, the film felt more like a thriller than an action movie. Yes, shots were fired, and there were a couple of dogfights involving spaceships dodging gunfire from the space prison, and there were a few bombs with automatic timers (not as if anyone in the film is focused on how long it’ll take for shit to blow up) put to good use. But still, it didn’t deliver the high-octane goodness that you’re guaranteed to get from a Luc Besson-produced action movie. As a matter of fact, it doesn’t even have the depth and heart of a Luc Besson-directed action movie.
I felt that the performances in “Lockout” were sub-par, to say the least. Joseph Gilgun is fucking awful as Hydell, and he delivers his role as a senseless cartoon character devoid of human conscience, pity or remorse. If he’s not trying to scare someone with his over-the-top insanity, he’s always shooting someone with a pistol (which, like a cartoon, never runs out of bullets). Luckily (or unfortunately depending on your tolerance for cinematic violence), his violent antics occur off-screen. Some may say this decision is meant to secure a PG-13 rating. I say, slap a R rating and show us the fucking goods – not that it would make the film any better though. Guy Pearce plays his character with dry sarcasm and wit, but he fails in developing good chemistry with his co-star Maggie Grace. When they’re together, Guy acts like a prick and Maggie reminds him that he’s acting like a prick. No wonder he wears a “WARNING: OFFENSIVE” T-shirt in the film. Also, he delivers his lines with a slight sense of boredom. I could imagine that he was probably thinking the following: “I was in Memento. I was in The King’s Speech. I was even in Prometheus! What the fuck am I doing HERE?!!” – but in a British accent since he was born in England but moved to Australia with his family when he…. Oops, that was my short attention span catching up with me.
Which brings me to my final issue with the film. The film was never engaging enough to hold my interest in its poorly-written story. I actually found myself bored at times while watching the damn movie. It’s just scenario after scenario (get past the prisoners in this room, make your way through the ventilation shafts, get in the escape pod, blah blah blah) without anything new or unique. In an action film, it’s really hard to stay focused when there’s a lack of action in the film, a lack of originality in the story and a lack of motivation in the characters. Not even the visual effects (cartoonish in the first few minutes and pretty cool in the last) are enough to save it. Overall, the film tries desperately to be a cutting-edge action movie set in outer space. But with a predictable story, one-dimensional villains, an unappealing protagonist with little to no motivation except to get the fuck back to Earth, and a lack of entertaining action sequences, “Lockout” should be incarcerated in a maximum security prison for bad movies – in space.
SHOULD I SEE THIS FILM? I won’t recommend watching this shit, but if you’re looking for a sci-fi film that’s not a SyFy Channel original movie that you can laugh at for being so terrible, then by all means…..watch “Lockout”. If you’re looking for a sci-fi film that’s actually good, or should I say awesome, go watch “The Fifth Element”. It’s still really decent for a 1995 movie. And if you’re curious about the French New Wave (and you definitely should be), I strongly recommend viewing the four French films that I mentioned in the first paragraph of this review. Jean-Luc Godard would be SO proud of you. He is still alive, by the way. And he’ll know if you haven’t seen them. Trust me….he’ll know.
MY RATING – 2 out of 5 stars (“I want my money back”)