In a year when Gareth Evans’s next-to-plotless The Raid: Redemption offered a vision of a kind of pure action cinema, and Christopher Nolan capped off his largely entertaining, stiflingly serious Batman trilogy with its most bloated entry yet, the American action film seemed under direct assault. Where are the smug antiheroes? The wiseacres? The guys who took their lickins with a wink and a one-liner? The Snake Pliskins, Marion “Cobra” Cobrettis, and John Matricies? France, apparently.
A product of Luc Besson’s Paris-based EuropaCorp studios, Lockout casts Guy Pearce as Snow, a wiseass C.I.A. agent circa 2079. Set up and sold out in the film’s opening minutes and sentenced to stasis at a maximum-security prison orbiting the Earth, Snow receives a last-ditch pardon attempt when that same prison falls into the hands of its rioting, freshly thawed inmates, who’ve taken the president’s daughter (Maggie Grace) hostage.
That the plot is precisely that of Escape from New York is the point. Lockout manages to evoke the highpoints of willfully dumb, giddily cynical American action cinema without feeling at all like a dog-tired exercise in postmodern pastiche. Likewise, unlike Stallone’s brawny Expendables franchise (set to retake the screen in August, loaded with enough beef to embarrass your butcher), Lockout‘s invigorating and nimble enough to evade the nostalgia trap.
Co-piloted by first-time feature directors James Mather and Stephen St. Leger (both of whom co-wrote, along with Besson), Lockout is as overstuffed as any bigger-budgeted Michael Bay offering. It just navigates more smoothly. Mather and St. Leger have a knack for swiftly, lucidly guiding the film through its massively CGI-augmented backdrop—which imagines the United States in 2079 as being largely constituted by a maze of crisscrossed highways. The opening getaway, which plops Snow on a futuro-motorcycle and has him evading pursuing cars and helicopters, is strung together in a balletic, if fudged, single take, suggesting the rollicking forward thrust of other Bessonian products like Taken and the Transporter films as much as the self-consciously cartoony meta spaces of the Andy and Lana Wachowski’s Speed Racer (though Lockout trades that film’s cotton-candy color palette for grubbier, more classically dystopic hues).
A film this refreshingly flip rests as much on the passable competence of its director(s) as the enduringly shrugging shoulders of its protagonist. In this respect, Pearce is fantastic, attacking the role with muted aplomb. That Snow’s perfected apathy seems to arise, at times, from the buffed-out actor’s thinly veiled contempt for being in “this kind” of movie serves to sell things further. As in Taken, Grace capably reacts to her thespian betters, ably volleying (or absorbing) Snow’s smart-alecky repartee. (And unlike in Taken, Lockout never nudges the viewer into buying into the fantasy that she’s some bubbly, bobby-socked, 16-year-old virgin.)
As efficient and highly satisfying as they are, Besson’s house of French-by-way-of-America actioners offer more than just empty calories. Beneath its kinetic string of throat-punching set pieces, Taken functioned as a toothy, two-pronged critique of both the ethically compromised Big Stick policy of the United States and the hands-over-the-barrel ineffectuality of French authority. (That film had more pointed “you must have had a pretty good view from behind your desk” barbs than a McGarnagle episode.) Lockout‘s potshots may thud a bit harder, but it nonetheless serves as an indictment of down-home American Justice, a yearning fantasy of a conservative superman dispatched to bail out the compromised hides of the bleeding-hearts that, retrograde as it may be, is at the very least (self-)parodic and, unlike Nolan’s Dark Knight muddles, coherent.
More than anything, though, the film’s cast of stuffed-shirt bureaucrats (including a comically menacing Peter Stormare) seem most keen on stymying the cowboy heroics of a character like Snow, decried by one of his superiors as “a relic.” Besson’s gang may be throwing back to some bygone era, but Lockout kicks forward at such a rollicking, intoxicating pace—including a third-act twist that sends the film’s action literally careening out of orbit—that there’s little time left to check the rearview mirror.
The DVD I received offers an audio/visual transfer of the film's digital cinematography that's as crisp and proficient as the film itself—though I imagine the whole thing looks and sounds better in hi-def.
Nothing in the way of commentaries. Though what's to say? The special features are rounded out by two short EPK-style making-of featurettes. Everyone involved (save for Guy Pearce, who seems as put-upon as he does in the film proper) speaks to the film's intentional humor, as if as readily defending themselves against accusations of (rather obvious) silliness. A production design and special-effects item offers minimal insight into the filming, following the cast and crew onto a wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling green screen where most of Lockout's major set pieces (the opening motorcycle getaway, a late-game subspace freefall) were filmed.
Not much in the way of packaging or extras. But then this is the kind of disc you keep laying around the living room like a coaster, at hand to fling into your DVD player to swiftly guide you through a rainy Wednesday evening or a hungover Sunday afternoon.