Basically “Lockout” is a throwback to dumb-downed, mid-concept action films of the 1990s. Ah yes, the 1990s. It was a post-beefcake time, where the barely articulate bodybuilders (Rainier Wolfcastle and the like) of the 1980s were being replaced by hyper-sarcastic, high-cheek-boned loose cannons. Indeed, Guy Pierce—whose real name is already a B-action movie hero name—is given exactly zero lines meant to be delivered in earnest. He is indifference, casual and genius. With a level of self-awareness that stops just short from looking at the camera and winking, Guy Everyman Piece is so in his element above the 20 or 30 intellectual peons in the movie that he just might has well have been Oscar Wilde with a shotgun.
Such witty retorts as “That’s not what your wife said last night” and “I guess that's why they call it the punch line” deliver Guy Pierce Stone into the pantheon of movie assholes, exactly one notch above most protagonists in modern, crime-based, video games. Surrounding the verbal sniping, the plot itself (President’s daughter taken hostage by convicts in an Earth-orbiting space station prison) was likely rejected by movie studios in the 1990s, only to be resurrected with the well of ideas 12 years dryer. Regrettably there is neither the intellectual social commentary of “Escape from New York” nor the political theorizing of “Air Force One.”
In fact, the lone cultural significance of the movie can be entirely credited to the absurdly lucky release date. On the exact weekend that “Lockout” was released, the real White House was slapped by a scandal involving 11 Secret Service agents and Columbian prostitutes. While the federal government is used to dealing with prostitutes of the media-variety, this debacle is a unique window into the rare arrogance and miscalculation of the Secret Service. Likewise, all the deaths in “Lockout” can be traced back to the arrogance and miscalculation of the Secret Service. Never before has the Secret Service screwed the pooch so hard and had the President live to tell about it.
And had this movie made twice as much money, it might have satiated the outraged appetites of the pettiest racists. It’s hard to call these plot-twists—as only a person with a very specific kind of head wound could possibly be fooled—but in all unfortunate plot turns a black guy is entirely responsible. Conversely, all the educated leaders (good and bad) are white. And never before has the bureaucracy of government, and a collection of newly-liberated felons each, acted with such mutually-exclusive unity and clarity of command. In the end, few people who voiced outrage when, the infinitely entertaining, Donald Glover was rumored to play the next Spiderman will see “Lockout” and, for that matter, be trapped in the theater and gassed.
The most surprising failing of “Lockout,” though, might be the complete lack of fighting creativity. Action scenes are brisk and simple. The PG-13 deaths are numerous, inconsequential and redundant. There is no escalation of drama, significant movement or purpose. Continuing, the self-serving sarcasm of Joe Guy Pierce is decidedly absent when a pre-mortem one-liner would be at home. Despite, or possibly because of, the sponge-brained wit of the movie, a pair of drunk guys in the front row acted as the movie’s two-man laugh track.
Even for the guiltiest of pleasures in escapist cinema, “Lockout” is too constrained to be entertaining. Movies like these make me long for the days I could play with action figures and smash them together in a half-hearted attempt at narrative cohesion. Failing that, I could have at least spent two hours sitting on my porch, suffering mid-60s weather and awaiting the next local police-involving eventuality. Time wasted, indeed.