Sunday, April 15, 2012

Bonus ACE OF MOVIES: Lockout!

(Quick note: When I wrote this review I had just finished watching two episodes of Downton Abbey. I'm afraid to say I can't stop thinking like a pretentious early century British person, and that might be a smidge reflected in this review. Wot wot. Bloody hell.)

They say, in life, the only certain things are death and taxes. In cinema, there are a few more. You know, when stepping into a movie theater, that you can count on certain things. James Cameron will give you a film of an epic scope, Robert Rodriguez will make you laugh and cheer, Tarantino will confuse and astound you, and Speilberg will break and heal your heart. But there's one more name I, personally, add to the pot, and that is Luc Besson. Besson is best known for being the director of 80s and 90s films like The Professional and La Femme Nikita. In the last few years, he's brought out a string of proteges and produced a series of mid-budget, european flavored action films like From Paris with Love, the Transporter, District B13 and Taken. Some of them, particularly Taken, have been successful at breaking in to the mainstream consciousness. Others, like B13 and From Paris with Love, have been a lot of fun to watch but not garnered a lot of attention. All of them, however, have been consistently high quality, enjoyable, popcorn action movies that give you exactly what you want when you step into the theater - a two hour escape into a simpler world.

So, is it any surprise that Lockout is no different?

Anyone who viewed the trailers for this film knows the plot from beginning to end, but I'll give you a short summary anyway: Escape from New York in space.

Ok, here's a longer one. Snow, a secret agent in the near-ish future, is caught by his own people and accused of a crime he didn't commit. At the same time, Emilie, the daughter of the President of the United States, is up in space, touring a new prison facility that houses convicts, Alien style. To avoid all of the problems that comes with keeping a prison population under control, they deep freeze all the convicts and call it a day. Snow is about to be sent to this same prison for his own crime, when a single prisoner escapes, kills the guards and releases all five hundred prisoners. Because a tactical assault will surely lead to the death of his daughter, the President authorizes a rescue mission by a single man, who of course is Snow.

 In the hands of anyone else, this is the plot of a straight to DVD movie. In the hands of Luc Besson's team, it's thankfully a little bit more.

Snow is played by Guy Pearce, who most of you out there will know from Memento. He has a long pedigree of playing serious, dramatic roles in independent film, so it had to have been nice to get the chance to play a smarmy anti-hero. Snow is all sarcasm and guns, with only the tiniest hints of character to back him up. Again, this is the sort of thing that, if I were reviewing a different kind of movie, would be a negative. But here it's a positive, and Pearce's portrayal of Snow is a joy to watch as he wisecracks and shoots his way through the orbital space station. There's always a joy to see an actor who's been cast in the same role over and over get the chance to stretch his range, and while it isn't quite as wonderful to watch as, say, Karl Urban in Star Trek, it's still a great surprise.
Even with a strong leading man, though, an action movie lives or dies on chemistry. A weak link in a female lead can send the entire film crashing to earth - just watch Jason Statham trying to play off his costar in Transporter 3 for proof. Thankfully Maggie Grace, pictured here because, well, I can, is up to the task of playing off of Pierce. The moments of the film where they're apart are dull and lifeless, and the moments they are together are full of the sort of zing and interest that sold action movies before they became about blank-faced marines fighting alien robots. The dialogue isn't the most brilliant in the world, but Pearce and Grace make it shine, and play off each other with wonderful timing.

The sets are beautifully designed, the world is fully realized, the acting is at least good across the board - but of course, it's not a perfect movie. There are plot holes you can drive a truck through. A particular CG sequence early on in the film has the sort of texturing I'd expect to see from Pixar fifteen years ago. And the final stunt sequence is so unbelievable that I, Mr. Suspension of Disbelief, laughed out loud. But that doesn't change the fact that there will come a Saturday afternoon, soon, where you are bored, and feeling listless. Where you just want to pack up your cares, drive to the movies, and get taken away for a while. And nobody does it better than the people Luc Besson gets together.

Go spend the $10 and see it. You'll thank me.

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