Lockout (2012) is a film of extremes. Parts are actually very good, but the rest is awful with absolutely nothing in between. This is a rarity. It’s more common to have a degree of uniformity with goodness/badness oscillating gently in the middle range. So the big question for you in deciding whether to go and see this will depend on how you assess badness.
We need to start with the way the film is advertised. This is a Luc Besson film! Wow! This man is using his name to promote films even though he neither directed it nor wrote the final script. He had the idea and is the producer! This means we should expect a mixture of Transporter and Taxi in science fiction disguise. As a model, we need to go back to Escape From New York, a seminal film by John Carpenter starring Kurt Russell as Snake Plissken who’s tasked to enter a maximum security prison and extract the President of the United States. Luc Besson moves this concept through time and we now have Guy Pearce as Snow given the take-it-or-else choice to enter a maximum security prison to extract Emilie Warnock (Maggie Grace), the President’s daughter. The difference lies in a single detail. Instead of part of New York being turned into a prison, this jail is in geosynchronous orbit. It should be a really peaceful place because all the inmates are held in stasis except, thanks to a really stupid member of the Secret Service (think Cartagena, Columbia except, instead of inviting a crowd of prostitutes to their rooms for a team rut, this bright spark takes a loaded gun and stands beside Hydell (Joseph Gilgun) a psychopathic prisoner). Cue prison break!
First, the good stuff. The casting of Guy Pearce and Maggie Grace is a great success. He struts, poses and, when necessary, fights and shoots with considerable swagger and style. Thanks to the script, he has a lot of one-liners that are moderately amusing. It’s just a shame not everything he’s given to do makes any sense. Although Maggie Grace does have to spend quite a lot of the time cowering, she’s also pleasingly self-assured when allowed to be more than cannon-fodder. They make a good pair to set against two magnificent villains. The brothers Alex (Vincent Regan) and Hydell are the worst Scotland can produce with Alex the brains who tries to protect Hydell from himself, and Hydell who just enjoys rape and murder and so spends this film deeply frustrated because he never manages to find the time to get to know Maggie Grace in the biblical sense. After these four thespians, no-one else really matters. They are just there for the McGuffin — the plot device to prolong the agony if all else fails. In this case, it’s a briefcase. We see Guy Pearce acquire it early on and then hand it off to another operative. In circumstances not clearly shown, the man with the case puts it somewhere safe and then attracts attention. The next time we see or hear of him, he’s in stasis. Ah ha. So now Guy Pearce now has to save two people and get them out of the space prison. . .
. . .which brings me to the bad stuff. This is a completely incoherent film in which, for the most part, absolutely nothing is explained. We’re supposed to intuitively understand how Earth could come to spend so much on a dedicated maximum security prison in space. The explanation seems to be that it’s actually used as a research centre by the private corporation planning deep space exploration. It seems there are bugs in the stasis system and they need lots of test subjects on whom to conduct their experiments. Then there’s the massive cost of shuttlecraft going up and down into orbit. Taxpayers must love that and, to ensure everyone’s human rights are protected, there’s no sign of any criminal trials — the guy who hid the McGuffin is in stasis within minutes of committing whatever crime deemed him one of the world’s worst criminals — nor is there any bar on different nationalities being incarcerated — Scotland’s finest can be locked up alongside all the other psychopaths. Once inside, there’s a wonderful automated defence system on this prison to shoot holes in anything coming too close without the password. None of your primitive projectile weapons but real, honest-to-goodness Star Wars lasers. We wouldn’t want our sleeping beauties to have any unwanted visitors. To further ensure undisturbed sleep by keeping the detainees’ feet on the ground — vertical pods in a gravity environment — there’s a real science fiction gravity-generation system. When the thing in the shaft goes whirly-whirly like a fan, centrifugal force keeps everything on the floor or, in this case, in the air on a level. Switch off that fan and the only other way of keeping feet on deck would be spinning the entire prison — which would be really vomit-inducing.
As security back-up, the US has a space navy but, instead of being able to shoot at an “enemy” like any self-respecting fleet made in an NRA-dominated America, the best it can do is drop magnetic mines close to whatever the marines want to blow up. Then it seems geosynchronous means the prison can drop out of orbit unless continuously tweaked — I suppose that comes from it being heavier than the air surrounding it. And the most absurd thing of all? It seems all the prison’s spacesuits are fitted with parachutes so that, if astronauts doing an EVA should happen to drift off, they can drop, light as a feather, back to Earth. This is not a comprehensive list, but it gives you a flavour of the rubbish we’re expected to sit through. The CGI and green screen work is actually quite impressive for a low-budget film but, although the prison looks good, all this imaging technology is put in service to a story that makes little or no sense — was that really the President’s daughter in the bathroom?
So, Lockout (2012) has a reasonable amount of fun with the heroic duo and the brutal brothers, but it’s killed stone dead by an incredibly daft plot. If you can completely switch off your brain and just enjoy people running around beating on and shooting each other, this is a great film. If, like me, you prefer films to have some degree of logic to them, you should give this one a miss.