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‘Lockout': In Space, No One Can Hear You Yawn

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“Lockout” is a cornball action movie that is too short on action or dramatic stakes to work effectively. Whether by the constraints of the budget or a lack of good ideas, the audience is afforded about three or four brief action scenes over the course of 95 minutes. The rest of the movie is meant to coast on the charm of its leading man, ex-CIA Agent Snow, who hates everyone and will tell you all about it. Star Guy Pearce has the chops to pull off the character as a broad cartoon who bleeds when he’s hit but only because it looks cooler in dim lighting. However, the script doesn’t give Pearce anything to work with, a problem that is only magnified by the dearth of excitement.

The movie is all premise. Decades in the future, Snow is wrongly accused by the Secret Service of killing a government official. As he’s being prepped for shipment to a maximum security prison orbiting Earth, there is a massive takeover by the criminal population, and it’s up to Snow to rescue the U.S. President’s daughter, who is touring the prison on a humanitarian mission. If you perk your ears at this premise instead of rolling your eyes, you are the movie’s intended audience. Except those in the second category won’t find anything after the first act that lives up to their expectations. Snow gets on board the prison ship, sneaks around,  knocks out a bad guy every now and then, and builds unconvincing sexual tension with the president’s daughter (Maggie Grace). Their banter tries to emulate the back-and-forth of other famous mismatched pairings, like Han Solo and Princess Leia or Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. But the coupling in “Lockout” is mostly a failure — not just because it’s derivative, but because it’s poorly executed. Here especially, the writing fails:

The president’s daughter grabs a gun and fires wildly at the bad guys.

Snow: “I thought you were a Democrat.”

That has to be one of the lamest jokes a writer could make in this situation. Its presence feels almost dutiful, as if the filmmakers plugged it in based on the expectation that you can’t have smarter jokes in a story about a floating prison. Co-writer and producer Luc Besson has delivered far better dialogue in his films “Leon: The Professional” and “The Fifth Element.” He also has been more imaginative in other facets of filmmaking. “Lockout” directors James Mather and Stephen St. Leger could learn a thing or two from Besson about showmanship, subverting expectations and finding inspiration in even the most cliched genre requirements.

As it stands, “Lockout” is a series of half-hearted one-liners that substitute for dramatic content and a slew of minor skirmishes that would fail to titillate a five-year-old. There’s a way to make an irreverent movie about a guy infiltrating a prison that orbits Earth, but it requires exhilarating action or at least a few characters who viewers can get invested in. These people are so slight that it’s no wonder they floated into space.

Grade: D+