Lockout is painful. Not painful in the way Uwe Boll or Sex and the City movies are painful. But painful enough that I kept waiting for Nicolas Cage to show up. Or Katherine Heigl. Or, god forbid, both. Instead, however, we have Guy Pearce and Maggie Grace picking up paychecks. Luc Besson's name is attached, but that has never been indicative of quality. Besson likes making Hollywood-type movies. That means loud, flashy, and dumb - three adjectives that would apply here if the filmmaking (by directors James Mather and Stephen St. Leger) wasn't so inept.
The premise would seem to be of the can't-miss variety cribbed from Escape from New York, which is the subject of constant remake rumors. It says a lot about how poor the execution is that the can't-miss misses. Lockout takes forever to get going, stumbles through the action-centric main chapter, then ends with a brief third act that is chaotic, rushed, and ultimately unsatisfying. When it was over, I felt like half the movie was missing. The average Michael Bay movie has more heart than Lockout; the only thing this has going for it over a Transformers movie is that it's mercifully short. That's worth something, I guess.
The story is set in 2079, when all the expected futuristic hardware is in use: air cars, commercial satellite transportation, prison space ships, etc. (Cell phones haven't advanced much, though - everyone seems to use an iPhone or iPhone clone.) This iteration of the late 21st century looks like a mashup of Blade Runner and The Jetsons. The bare bones plot has the President's prissy, do-gooder daughter, Emilie (Maggie Grace), abducted while visiting MS-1, a maximum security prison in geosynchronous orbit where the cryogenically frozen psycho prisoners are waking up. To escape a frame-up, ex-CIA operative Snow (Guy Pearce), is shuttled up to the prison on a rescue mission. As a nice coincidence, the only man who can clear Snow of the fraudulent charges happens to be an inmate on MS-1. Of course, the operation is complicated by the head of the Secret Service, Langral (Peter Stormore), who would be delighted to see Snow fall.
There's no reason this hairbrained plot couldn't be made into a rip-roarin' action film like Die Hard on a Space Ship. Unfortunately, the crew behind Lockout doesn't have a clue how to generate suspense or excitement. There's a lot of running around but little in the way of action to quicken the pulse. The anti-gravity bit might have been moderately entertaining if we hadn't already seen it, almost shot-for-shot, in Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol. There's no big showdown with the bad guys; the sequences in the prison ship end in an anticlimax, but that's only a prelude to worse things to come. The ending, which attempts to wrap up as many loose ends as possible, straddles the line between ugly mess and unmitigated disaster. Even those willing to forgive Lockout's lackluster action are likely to throw up their hands in disgust at the abrupt, contrived way everything is brought to a conclusion.
There are issues with the characters, as well. Both are boring in their own ways. Emilie has little in the way of a personality and exists primarily to do dumb things to prolong the running length. She belongs in a horror movie. Snow is a clichéd misanthrope with a heart of gold - your basic Han Solo without the charm. He's more annoying than interesting, more grating than appealing. The problem with Snow isn't Pearce, who can scowl and spit out sarcastic one-liners with the best of them; it's the way the screenwriters have penned the character. The problem with Emilie may be Grace. This is not a winning performance.
It appears that a fair amount of money was spent on the special effects (although not enough), indicating that whoever controlled the purse-strings had seen Transformers and come to the reasonable conclusion that, for cinematic science fiction, stupidity is a quality prized above all others. There are some nifty futuristic shots and some nice model and/or CGI (hard to tell) work, but the visuals are inconsistent. 3-D has been rejected in favor of 2-D - that's always a plus. Pretty images aside, Lockout might well be intended as a one-word description for what happens to viewers who attempt to become involved in the diluted by-the-numbers action.