(by Dustin Putman
For fifteen years or more, Guy Pearce (2011's "Don't Be Afraid of the Dark") has been a consistent and reliable film actor, capably handling each role as it comes without necessarily breaking out the way he was originally positioned to. Maybe he just hadn't gotten that ideal part where his talents perfectly alchemized with that of his character, or perhaps it had to do with his frequently too-thin frame and gaunt facial features. Whatever the case may be, these setbacks are nowhere to be found in Pearce's disarmingly cocksure work in "Lockout." The film itself, a decidedly derivative and tough-to-swallow sci-fi actioner that reminds of something Jean-Claude Van Damme would have made in the early-'90s, leaves plenty of things to be desired, but one of them is not its lead actor, whose newly bulked-up, filled-out physical appearance has done wonders for his on-screen charisma and confidence. Playing an at once arrogant and irresistible anti-hero who never met a smart-ass remark he didn't like, Pearce very nearly saves the whole movie on his shoulders alone. If the script had been written with the same level of verve and intelligence, then first-time writer-directors James Mather and Stephen St. Leger might have been on to something. Article continues below
The year is 2079, and up in space floats M.S. One, a maximum security prison where its inmates are kept under control by extended periods of cryogenic stasis. When the U.S. President's diplomatic grown daughter Emilie Warnock (Maggie Grace) pays a visit and is promptly held hostage following a facilities-wide breakout, an ex-CIA agent by the name of Snow (Guy Pearce), in hot water for suspected espionage, is offered his freedom if he is able to get her home safely. To do so, they'll have to elude hundreds, maybe thousands, of dangerous convicts, among them self-imposed leader Alex (Vincent Regan) and his psychotic loose cannon of a brother Hydell (Joseph Gilgun), and make it to the station's last remaining escape pod. Agent Harry Shaw (Lennie James) lets it be known that he has his doubts about Snow's chance for success: "If this works," he says, "I'll wear a tutu and pink pantyhose."
Based on an original idea by co-scribe Luc Besson (2009's "Taken"), "Lockout" doesn't take itself terribly seriously, and that's a very good thing. From an early freeway chase that looks like a mid-level video game demo, to the obvious and contrived plotting spoon-fed to its audience (traveling to M.S. One, Emilie is told it's the safest prison in existence only for such a statement to be proven wrong within minutes of arrival), to the briefcase McGuffin that has "oh, come on!" written all over it, the movie is too big for its modest budget and downright absurd if one takes even a second to ponder the narrative's logisitics. By the time characters are sky-diving from outer space and landing safely on Earth via parachute—all in the span of forty-five seconds—viewers must make up their minds whether it's the goofiest dumb movie in many moons or a knowing spoof of intergalactic action pics. Either way, at least it remains diverting as at least a couple of set-pieces—like a fight above huge gravity-defying fans—stand out among the generally uncreative storytelling.
Having Guy Pearce on board as Snow is a case of fortuitous casting. He's not normally the first person one would consider for an action role that requires a fair amount of muscle, brawn, and sarcastic bravado, yet he slides into the thick of things so well it's impossible not to wonder if the actor has, at long last, found his calling. Like Jason Statham with a personality and sense of humor, Pearce is outstanding in a relatively hackneyed part. Though they spar and bicker throughout, there's no shielding the chemistry that forms between himself and a game Maggie Grace (2010's "Faster") as imperiled First Daughter Emilie Warnock, injured with a leg wound but quickly learning to toughen up. Theirs isn't exactly a budding romance—they don't have time for that—but a relationship that grows out of gradual respect and a sort of opposites-attract playfulness.
Outside of the lead star's general prowess and the expedient leaps in logic that directors James Mather and Stephen St. Leger keep asking of audiences, "Lockout" is competent but rather generic. Bad guys take over a compound. Bad guys hold hostages. Comparitive good guy, looking to clear his name, is sent to stop them and save a girl. These genre conventions are some of the oldest in the book, and not enough is done to differentiate them from the antiquated lot. It's the sort of film a person might waste a lazy Sunday afternoon watching on cable, but not one that anyone needs to go out of their way to experience. In fact, it's all rather metallic and loud and junky, highlighted by a central performance far superior to the film he's in. On the positive side, at least "Lockout" is fortunate enough to have that much.