Far off in some mean future, a VIP is held hostage by gnarly inmates in a maximum-security prison, whereupon a wisecracking anti-hero gets dispatched on a one-man rescue operation.
Nope, this isn't 1981's Escape from New York, but it's certainly headed in that general direction – same old premise, same old banter.
Different result, though. Over 30 years and many computer generations later, Lockout somehow manages to lose the suspense from the tale and, even more impressively, to deaden the special effects. On the other hand, it does a splendid job of putting the pale into imitation and draining the life out of derivative.
The time is 2079, apparently far enough into the century that Guy Pearce has acquired a whole new body. My, but our Guy has bulked up since his Mildred Pierce days, the better to play Agent Snow, a barrel-chested and squinty-eyed laconic fellow who treats dialogue like tweets.
Snow used to be white but now he has fallen, framed on a bad rap and about to be packed off to "MS One." That would be Maximum Security One, as in so secure that the prison is located in outer space and the prisoners are obliged to serve their sentence in a state of "stasis." In short, they're put to sleep – a condition that threatens to prove contagious here.
It happens that the President's daughter Emilie (Maggie Grace) is visiting MS One on a fact-finding mission, there to investigate rumours the slumbering inmates are being used as guinea pigs in nasty medical experiments. Oops, she inadvertently awakens a sleeping ugly, an especially brutish lad with a scarred eye and a thick Scottish burr.
In turn, he wakes up his even more brutal brother, and so on, until the cons are in full revolt and Emilie is their prize hostage. Naturally, only Snow can save her. Thus, in return for his freedom, he rockets off into the black yonder, occasionally pausing just long enough to discharge a few bits and bytes of that cynical banter.
To this point, Irish co-directors James Mather and Stephen St. Leger, no doubt excited by their feature debut, are doing their level best to pretend that the script is indeed derived, as the credits proudly insist, "from an original idea" by Luc Besson.
Alas, since Luc surely knows better, as do we, that pretence is hard to maintain. The action sequences, a stale amalgam of noise and clutter, don't help the cause. Nor do the not-very-special effects, although a free fall in space suits, a re-entry plunge from that orbiting jail all the way down to mother Earth, definitely captures our attention if only by so flagrantly defying all logic.
Actually, some help finally arrives and, to their everlasting credit, the cast provides it. Two in particular. With that dead eye and live accent, Joseph Gilgun puts a deliciously scary face on the villainous punk – think Begbie from Trainspotting, but wired even tighter and partying like it's 2079.
And Pearce pumps a surprising amount of levity into his one-liners – sure, it's still hot air, but at least the banter comes fully inflated.
Grace fares less well with Emilie, although it must be said that, in sheer blandness, her President's daughter does make for a convincing President's daughter – Chelsea Clinton maybe, with a hint of Julie Nixon.
In the end, Lockout is just another minor flick guilty of that most common aesthetic crime: borrowing too much and repaying too little. A stern judge would probably toss it in debtor's prison, but there may not be any room.
Directed by Stephen St. Leger and James Mather
Written by Luc Besson, Stephen St. Leger, James Mather
Starring Guy Pearce and Maggie Grace