I just got back from seeing Lockout, and boy, is my willing suspension of disbelief tired!
I am ambivalent about this movie. I can’t decide if it is merely bad, or the worst movie I have ever seen. I don’t know if it’s the shocking misogyny, (and it actually rises to the level of “shocking,” nearly an impossibility in this day and age) or the utter disregard for physics, or the way the film smugly assumes that it is the only movie any audience member has ever seen, and therefore doesn’t even have to try.
Have you seen Die Hard 2? Have you seen Demolition Man? Have you seen that Mandy Moore movie where she’s the President’s daughter and runs off through Europe with the hot guy who turns out to be a Secret Service agent? Then you’ve seen three pieces of (comparatively!) quality cinema that will hit all the relevant plot points in Lockout, and you will have a better time.
In the genre of futuristic sci-fi extrrrravaganzas, Luc Besson is best known for The Fifth Element, and I doubt that film needs an introduction. It’s a tour de force, an imaginative, high-stakes, violent romp through averting the end of our future world. Marvelous, in the original sense of the word. There were times when I felt thought Lockout was an episode in the history of our Earth that leads to The Fifth Element, and that made me view it in a slightly more forgiving way. Slightly.
Nothing about the plot of this movie makes sense. Absolutely nothing.
Snow, played by Guy Pearce, is a wise-cracking, musclebound, everyman ex-CIA agent. He’s not likable unless you know he’s the good guy, and you know he is. How do you know? You just DO, okay? It doesn’t matter what he does, he is the Tormented and Closed-Off Good Guy. And none of yous better forget it. Get me? We know he’s the good guy because we meet him being accused of something he Did Not Do, and he is being punched in the face repeatedly during his interrogation. (About an hour into the movie, I understood all too well how the interrogator felt.) He’s accused of killing a fellow agent and stealing state secrets. Wonderful! I am almost interested! What are these secrets? Is it a weapon? Is it state secrets? Is it some wonderful new piece of technology?
Just forget about it. You’re never going to find out, anyway. Suffice it to say that we are supposed to believe Snow when he says he didn’t do anything wrong and was set up, and we are supposed to think the CIA dicks are dicks, and we do.
While this is going on, we meet Emily. The Girl. The First Daughter. She is blond and pretty and trying to help. In this case, by visiting the US’s first orbital super max prison, where the prisoners are kept in “stasis.” “Stasis” is not explained, but looks like a medically-induced coma combined with being left in a cold environment. There are reports that the stasis has negative side effects; dementia, blindness, “heightened aggressive tendencies,” etc. There are also some conspiracy theories floating around that a huge corporation is using the prisoners as guinea pigs to test the effects of long term stasis on deep space explorers. Emily wants to get to the bottom of this, interview a few inmates, figure out what’s Really Going On. No one thinks this is a good or worthwhile endeavor, and she is patronized by the Warden of the prison fairly spectacularly, which brings our Violence Against Emily count to one.
Seriously. This movie HATES Emily. It has nothing but contempt for this character, and takes every opportunity to show it, in increasingly horrible ways. I’m not really sure what its problem with her is. She wants to keep people with no rights from being mistreated, even if, as the Warden patronizingly tells her, “They’ve done some pretty horrible things to get in here.” She interviews an inmate named Hydell, a crazy man who slavers all over her and ends up causing mayhem with a gun he lifts off one her aides, who, even though he’s told he can’t bring guns into the prison section, predictably can’t help himself. And, as long as we’re on the subject, why have the President’s daughter meet with an unstable maniac when you’re trying to prove that the stasis technology doesn’t turn the inmates into unstable maniacs?
Mayhem ensues. There’s an explosion. Emily is knocked out and shot in the leg. (Violence Against Emily: 3) Hydell runs off and wakes up all the inmates on the station, who form a ravening horde of destruction. Apparently some, but not all, of the inmates have suffered negative side effects. One of the inmates who wakes up is Hydell’s brother, Alex. He hasn’t suffered negative side effects, and this is sad. Perhaps if he had, he would just kill his goddamn brother already. Hydell is impossible to control, his mental dial set permanently to “homicidal rapist loon.” Alex has it relatively together, though. His aims are uncertain, though getting released seems to be part of his plan. He has some hostages, but he doesn’t know he has the president’s daughter. I think, if this had been a better movie, Alex would have been written as the yin to Snow’s (remember Snow?) yang. He’s loyal and tough, but Bad. We have no idea what he did to get himself in here, but whatever it was, I suspect it was Hydell’s fault.
Anyway. Back on earth, Snow is told he can avoid being put into stasis and getting thrown into a super max frozen prison if he goes to a super max frozen prison of his own free will to get the girl out. He’s unhappy about this, but says yes because hey, prison sucks if you’re there against your will without heavy explosives to help get you through the day.
There are some more predictable scenes involved Emily being threatened by Hydell (VAE: 4) and protected by Alex because he thinks she’s a doctor, scenes involving a hostage negotiator getting himself killed because someone sees Snow boarding the station, and some more mayhem showing the prisoners killing each other. I was interested in the role of the ravening horde in this movie. They’re zombie-like, with no characterizations and no individuality. I wonder if the current focus on mindless villains is a symptom of how fearful we all are now of ideas… but such thoughts belong in a review of a much better movie. Lockout doesn’t deserve them.
Snow finally meets up with Emily after rescuing her from dying. (VAE: 6. This one gets two points because she suffocates to death and then to wake her up, he has to STICK A NEEDLE IN HER RIGHT EYE.) They don’t get along. I think the puerile idiots who wrote this film think verbal abuse is flirting. At one point, as they need to cross the prison without her being seen to be a girl, he forcibly holds her down to cut and color her hair, at which point she calls him a “pig.” What? WHAT? First of all, Emily is supposed to be intelligent, if too idealistic for the men around her, and she probably would have thought that one through. Oh, and then he punches her in the face so that she looks “tough.” (VAE: 7)
I think the writers wanted to play with the “love of a good woman” trope in order to sort of reform Snow and make him realize he can be a more emotionally involved man and still get the job done. Sort of. Maybe. But they are SO TERRIBLE they couldn’t even do that. Snow has nothing but contempt for her ideals, he calls her a princess, he makes a comment about how many people have died for her already, comic relief is her not being able to read a map… it makes no sense with what we know about her character. Namely, that she’s a genuinely decent person in a lousy environment and she’s doing what she can to make things better. But somehow, this movie seems to think that none of that makes her worthy. Snow tells her that she’ll only know who she is if she has to make some sort of personal sacrifice. She does, at the end, telling Alex that Hydell can have his wicked way with her instead of calling off an attack on the station necessary to saving the Eastern Seaboard from having the super max space station crash into it. Oh, wait, did I not mention that little third act twist?
We’re told that the prison isn’t in a fixed orbit around the Earth, so that without constant monitoring, it’ll crash. (Is that even POSSIBLE?) Up until now, the big dilemma has been whether to blow the prison out of the sky with the hostages still on it, including the First Daughter. The President won’t give the order with his daughter aboard, thus, sending Snow in.
Snow and Emily manage to survive re-entry in metal maintenance suits and then parachute to a light landing on a freeway. Never mind that they leave the space station at a light saunter and in NO WAY will be able to get to the 17,000 MPH they’ll need to re-enter the atmosphere instead of skipping right off, and they don’t BURN UP even though they’re wearing the space-going equivalent of tinfoil!
Oh, and at the end it turns out one of the CIA dicks was the bad guy all along, (like you didn’t see that coming) that Snow had the super secret information – so secret even the writers didn’t know what it was! – all along (like a runaway train) and that he and Emily are going to get together in the end, after she has softened him, and he has toughened her. (COVERED IN GLITTER.)
This is a stupid movie. The banter is fun, in a space jock sort of way. The performances were really good, and I think in a different movie, the characters could have come across way better and it might have been an interesting film without sacrificing the violence-on-a-space-station fun. But 95% of the writing was godawful, and there’s no coming back from that.