There’s something charmingly old-fashioned about Lockout, an epic act of recycling in the grand tradition of Die Hard knockoffs. It feels like an experiment in reverse-engineering the most successful elements of popular American action films, except one where the results were buried in a drawer for over 20 years. French super-producer Luc Besson has been cranking out slick facsimiles of smarter and more expensive action fare for years – he’s responsible for the entire Transporter series, as well as the smash Francophone franchises Taxi and District 13 - but with Lockout you can feel his lingering affection for the comparatively simple gimmicks of yesteryear. The result is a film that loses points for its lack of originality, but gains most of them back with its nostalgic appeal.
Guy Pearce stars as the film’s Bruce Willis surrogate, a former CIA agent arrested on trumped-up murder charges who gets a shot at redemption when the very first Supermax prison in outer space unexpectedly goes Attica. It just so happens that the president’s daughter (Maggie Grace) is on a “humanitarian mission” to investigate the convicts’ living conditions when things get hairy. I suspect that if the warden had to do it again, he wouldn’t have chosen a half-blind, psychotic Scotsman (Joseph Gilgun) for a meet and greet with the First Daughter. Armed with little more than his wits and an arsenal of atrocious one-liners, Pearce gets his ass to space jail with orders to rescue Grace before the cons find out exactly who she is.
I’ve always wondered if the other hostages ever get bored in a movie like this. Establishing shots show the prison facility as an enormously imposing structure – large enough to absorb a collision with the International Space Station – yet the interior is as barren and deserted as the infinite void surrounding it. Everything about Lockout is conspicuously economical, though the sparing use of CGI and strategic placement of extras successfully contribute to the film’s claustrophobic atmosphere. Unfortunately, the limitations extend to the functional dialogue and one-note performances – Pearce is particularly wearying in his state of perma-smugness. Lockout is at least a sincere effort at creating fun, brainless entertainment, even if it’s ultimately just a shallow simulacrum of something you’ve seen before.