Lockout is a fun, pulpy sci-fi vehicle, and Guy Pearce is its engine. James Mather and Stephen St. Leger‘s flick doesn’t have much of a budget, but they turn their limitations into an advantage by keeping the story lean, fast-paced, and with their charismatic lead actor almost always front and center. The weaknesses of the plot become more apparent when Pearce isn’t on screen, and the action is mostly forgettable, but none of that seems to matter when you have roguish, smart-ass lead performance that recalls heroes like Snake Plisskin and John McClane. There’s enough supporting material to keep Lockout running, but Pearce is what makes the movie blast off.
In the year 2079, ex-CIA agent Snow (Pearce) is sentenced to hypersleep in the controversial space prison MS-One after being framed for the murder of his friend, who was supposedly trying to sell state secrets to a foreign power. Meanwhile, the President’s daughter Emily (Maggie Grace) is up on the space prison on a fact-finding mention in order to determine if the conditions are humane, especially when it comes to hypersleep causing mental deterioration. During an interview with Hydell (Joseph Gilgun), an inmate who was clearly deranged before he even entered MS-One, the violent psycho manages to escape, take Emily and her entourage hostage, and free all of his fellow convicts. Snow is then “given” the option to rescue Emily in exchange for his freedom. Snow agrees, but with a hidden motive: to find his incarcerated partner, who knows the location of a briefcase that will prove Snow’s innocence.
As you can tell from the synopsis, the plot is already full of contrivances and shortcuts before Snow even gets on the space station. For example, if MS-One is trying to convince Emily about the humane treatment of its inmates, why not trot out a model prisoner rather than a dangerous lunatic like Hydell? Lockout doesn’t revel in its plot holes, but it only attempts to patch them up when there’s a risk of making Snow or Emily seem unsympathetic. Rather than shy away from the movie’s problems, Mather and St. Leger almost embrace the shortcomings. They know that saying “Rescue President’s daughter from space prison” sounds goofy, and it is. The filmmakers don’t wink at the audience, but they have no illusions about what they’re trying to do. It’s a philosophy that also carries over to the special effects; in particular, there’s an opening chase scene with CGI that’s so poor it could have run on a PlayStation 2.
Mather and St. Leger can’t be completely excused for not working a bit harder (they could have cut the chase scene or revamped it to make it look more convincing), but their eye is always keeping the story moving briskly and, more importantly, giving Pearce the material and the freedom to craft a memorable, winning performance. The script may fall short when it comes to the plot, but it absolutely delivers with the dialogue.
Guy Pearce giving a great performance isn’t surprising, but his work in Lockout is one of the best of his career. He brings Snow right up to the line of being an unbearable dick, and then he spits over the line. Pearce crafts just the right mixture of nonchalance, bravado, weariness, and honor. Some may argue that Snow’s treatment of Emily borders on the misogynistic, but the film clearly lays out that Snow is dismissive towards anyone he doesn’t like or trust. Grace does a good job of making Emily more than the damsel in distress, but this is Pearce’s show and no one can steal a scene away from him.
With Pearce as their lead, Mather and St. Leger have crated a delightful combination of an unapologetic B-movie and a grade-A performance. Pearce doesn’t “save” the movie, because the directors know exactly what kind of story they have, and it’s a story where you don’t make excuse for why there’s gravity in the space prison (because the implied answer for those questionable details is always, “Because it’s the future.”). It would be easy to say that Lockout is more fun that it deserves to be, but Guy Pearce’s performance takes the guilt away from a guilty pleasure.