A collection of the world’s most demented criminals have staged a riot in an orbiting space prison and kidnapped the President’s daughter. Only one man, framed for a crime he didn’t commit, can save her. His name is Snow. You could be forgiven for thinking that this plot synopsis was pulled from the title screen of an 80’s arcade game; but no, this is the plot of Lockout, a movie released just this year. If this had been a video game instead, the plot synopsis would have ended with the bold challenge: “Are you a bad enough dude to save the President’s daughter?”
And yet, if you grew up in the ‘80s like I did, there’s a strong chance that you might love this movie. Lockout is a mishmash of old action/science fiction movie clichés that is so absolutely cheesy and self aware that it passes into so-bad-its-good territory. Some people will complain that this movie rips off Escape from New York and a host of other cult classics. That’s the entire point.
Around the time I was in college, I would semi-frequently get together with my best friends to drink beer and watch old John Carpenter and Paul Verhoeven films. Around beer five or six, we would start brainstorming our own imaginary action flick constructed solely from clichés and corny dialogue from ‘80s movies. Lockout comes pretty close to what one of those drunken brainstorming sessions would have looked like if it had been turned into an actual movie; and I mean that in the absolute best way possible.
One major flaw keeps Lockout from being a true classic (and keeps it from being an exact approximation of one my drunkstorming sessions): the PG-13 rating. I’m not really sure why the creators decided to make this movie PG-13. Why not go all out and make it a hard “R” just like a real Arnold Schwarzenegger or Kurt Russell vehicle would have been? Lockout is an unabashed ’80s cheese fest released in the wrong decade; children of the ‘90s and ‘00s are likely too sophisticated – or at least think they’re too sophisticated – for this kind of storytelling. Making the movie accessible to them is pointless.
As a result, the Lockout sorely lacks the explicit language, inventive bloodshed, and gratuitous nudity of old school action movies. The editing is puritanical. Most of the action in the movie consists of one character pointing a gun at another character and the camera cutting away to another image as the sound of a gunshot reverberates on the soundtrack; other characters die in generic bloodless explosions. In fact, PG-rated Raiders of the Lost Ark has significantly more on-screen violence than Lockout. In many ways, the film feels like a TV-edit of a legitimate balls-to-the-wall action movie. That’s lame, and it diminishes some of the flick’s charm.
The casting of Guy Pearce as Snow mostly off-sets the movie’s faults. Mostly. After seeing Lockout, I remain firmly convinced that Guy Pearce must shit gold. A serious, earnest performance would have sunk this movie. Guy Pearce, looking more ripped than he’s been since Memento, gives a completely self aware and sarcastic performance; and he’s amazing. He obviously walked into this role knowing exactly what this project needed. He dominates every scene.
He maintains a self assured, nonchalant energy throughout the movie and spits out one-liners and witticisms with lightening fast speed. He also does something that’s really fucking funny: whenever some of his dialogue is particularly clumsy or unbearably cheesy, he either mumbles straight through it or says it clearly and flinches as he’s saying it. He creates the impression that even the character of Snow realizes that some of his jokes are falling flat as he’s saying them.
Regardless, as played by Guy Pearce, Snow is a great Hollywood action movie hero possibly on par with Kurt Russell’s iconic Snake Plissken. Hopefully Snow will return in future installments; installments that will be rated R and will allow him to kill psychopaths in imaginative ways and drop the f-bomb every now and then.