The artificial gravity of Lockout

Posted by CB Droege

Lockout is a prison-break action flick in space. Guy Pearce is the surly secret agent Snow, tasked with rescuing the president’s daughter, played by Maggie Grace, from a maximum security prison in low orbit, which has been taken over by inmates.

The film has space combat, explosions, upper atmosphere parachuting, motorcycle chases, and, of course, plenty of gun-fights.

As expected, the effects are great, although once or twice the relatively low budget shows through the seams, especially in the few scenes which take place on earth.

The scenes in space are believable and engaging, even the ship-to-ship battles are exciting, which can be a great challenge on a low budget flick. One surprising bright-point is a lack of gadgets. Many sci-fi films end up with a sort of hi-tech gadget overload, which stretches the suspension of disbelief, usually without adding anything to the film otherwise.

Here there is space-flight, and the techs that go along with extended, easy to depict, space habitation (like artificial gravity), but otherwise the tools the hero has are nothing more than any modern day hero, which helps his action scenes and combat to feel more visceral, less fantastic, and, ultimately, more suspenseful.

The individual performances of Guy Pearce and Maggie Grace are delivered well. They hit their marks spot on in nearly every scene, but the characters still strike an odd note due to their unconventional path through the film. Unfortunately, they miss doing something new and interesting with the characters by just a hair.

In the film’s opening scenes Snow's arrogance and easy hatred of those around him make him an unlikeable character. He becomes slightly more relatable as the film reaches its climax, but one still finds it difficult to care about his personal sub-plot. He’s been betrayed. He’s being framed for a crime he didn’t commit, but he seems so unconcerned, or, perhaps, so dismissive, that the audience must dismiss it as well, despite that the resolution of that betrayal feels like it was intended to be one of the most dramatic moments of the film. It simply falls flat. That combined with the odd pacing - it’s impossible to figure out how much time has passed between some scenes - shows some lack of effort for this character.

The damsel-in-distress is not easier to like. She’s the president’s daughter, and attempted to give her an activist streak, along with the voice of a strong woman, but she vacillates so often between ‘strong female role-model’ and ‘helpless damsel’ that it’s clear her ‘strength’ is only there to give Snow a hard time, and her weaknesses are only there to give Snow something to do. Her entire personality feels like a series of plot devices until after the resolution of the main plotline, when she finally separates from Snow, and we see her do something on her own. 

The romantic subplot starts out unbelievable, and stays that way throughout. Somehow, after the world is saved, the two seem to be interested in sexy-times, but there is no epiphany, nor is there a gradual coming to terms with one another or even making graduated realizations about their attraction to one another. The pair actually makes a pretty good team, as a team, rather than a couple. While the relationship as a whole doesn’t make sense, each individual scene is well-played and, usually, pretty funny. They make a good buddy dynamic, and watching this odd-couple find a way to work together was great fun, but then, suddenly, and against sense for their characters, they get together in the end, and one can only groan. I thought I was going to see this movie go quietly bold, and allow the lead characters to finish the film without turning it into a romantic relationship. That would have been grand, but they ruin the whole thing with, literally, the last line of the film. It feels poorly tacked on. It’s almost like the movie was written originally with the two only becoming great friends in the end, and some studio exec somewhere said "That’s great, but add a line to the end which shows they’re getting together."

Despite the odd characterizations, Lockout is still fun, and all those great action scenes are made no less by the flat subplots, so if you’re looking for a sci-fi action film, this one will fit the bill, but I really wouldn’t take a date to it.