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‘Lockout’ is a spacey parade of cliches

POSTED: April 19, 2012 12:30 a.m.

Oh, Luc Besson, what shall we do with you?

The French director/writer/producer made an international splash back in the ’80s and ’90s with a series of highly stylized, tautly written and briskly paced action movies: “Subway,” “The Big Blue,” “La Femme Nikita,” and “Leon: The Professional.”

Besson wrote and directed all of those films and seemed poised to stake his claim as a heavyweight auteur.
Then came “The Fifth Element” in 1997. This big budget, star-studded sci-fi pic made good money worldwide but left most viewers bewildered.

Besson had kept his stories relatively simple up until then, which, along with consistently strong performances by his actors, had hidden the fact that Besson was guilty of putting style over substance. Despite the movie’s good box office numbers, the film community has never taken Besson as seriously after “The Fifth Element.”

And ever since, Besson has worked more as a writer and producer than as a director. That’s the role he took on for “Lockout,” conceiving the idea, co-writing the screenplay, and producing, while two new directors, Stephen St. Leger and James Mather, helmed the project.

However, the movie bears all of Besson’s trademarks, both good and bad. Those trademarks begin with a classic — that’s a nice way of calling it cliché — scenario.

“Lockout” is, at its core, a prison break movie told from the perspective of the people charged with stopping it.
Mature Scottish prisoner Alex (Vincent Regan) and his younger, psychopathic brother Hydell (Joseph Gilgun) lead a breakout attempt at the world’s most dangerous prison. They kill or subdue all the prison guards, take a group of technicians and visitors hostage, then use them as leverage.

A tough, highly trained, wise-cracking agent named Snow (Guy Pearce) is sent in to rescue one valuable prisoner named Emilie (Maggie Grace), who happens to be the president’s daughter.

See what they did there?

The movie demands a huge suspension of disbelief that a president’s daughter would ever visit such a place. Because beyond being dangerous ... this prison is in space, low Earth orbit to be precise. In “Lockout,” commercial space flight has become so fast and common that it necessitates an international space police force.

Side note: It turns out space police are just as inept as Earth police usually are in the movies. And they resent federal law enforcement, too.

M.S. One, the prison, keeps 500 of the planet’s deadliest criminals in chemically induced hibernation. Emilie visits the prison to investigate rumors of prisoner abuse. During an interview, Hydell — in handcuffs, mind you — overpowers two secret service agents and takes Emilie hostage, initiating the breakout attempt.

But wait, there’s still more. Snow is coerced into taking on the rescue mission because he is a CIA agent accused (wrongly, of course) of being a spy.

What else could they throw into this story, you ask? Let me tell you.

The one man in the world who can prove Snow’s innocence is Mace (Tim Plester), a snitch who is now imprisoned — say it with me — on M.S. One.

Snow must rescue Emilie and find Mace before the prisoners kill both of them or before the Secretary of Defense (Peter Stormare) orders an attack on the prison.

The movie borrows from “Escape From New York” and numerous others, which is part of Besson’s M.O. He takes familiar scenarios and adds his own twist.

That occasionally works well, as it did in 2008’s outstanding actioner “Taken,” a movie for which Besson wrote a lean, focused script.

“Lockout,” however, gets bogged down in a series of twists, none of which are necessary.

Pearce, Gilgun, Grace and the supporting cast revel in the ridiculousness of the story and make it entertaining. “Lockout” might satisfy those in the mood for something enjoyably absurd.

But this movie would be infinitely better if the filmmakers had kept it grounded on Earth and in a more plausible plot.

Jeff Marker teaches film and literature at Gainesville State College. His reviews appear weekly in Get Out and on gainesvilletimes.com/getout.


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