Thursday, 28 February 2013

Lockout: It's like DIE HARD! IN SPACE!, except terrible

The blurb on the box said that Lockout was "Die Hard. In. Space", which, borrowing from Roger Ebert, is an insult to Die Hard, Space, and probably the word "in". I've got to start reading the tiny print which tells you what they're quoting from….

Even allowing for the way Luc Besson is like a tax-friendly production line for movies that not even Leon can make up for, Lockout is still a breathtaking letdown. Some movies insult the viewer's intelligence; Lockout sneaks up behind the viewer's intelligence and works it over with a baseball bat before tea bagging the limp remains and video-ing the whole thing to post on YouTube. 

Don't get me wrong. I quite like dumb movies. When you get paid to think, dumb is how you relax. But there's dumb, and then there's this. I've actually seen much stupider movies. It's just that I keep wishing Besson would try a bit harder, and on top of that, this is a movie which somehow signed up Lennie James, Peter Stormare and … Guy Pearce. Guy Pearce has - well he has nominations for things anyhow. I can't believe he had nothing better to do than spend a few weeks in Serbia with Luc Besson making this stuff happen. Whatever tax demand this paid off could easily have waited.

Lockout is the second movie I've watched this week where one guy has spent the whole movie trying to get out of a large structure filled with angry criminals who want to kill him. There were two important differences; firstly, one of the buildings was IN! SPACE! and the other was in Indonesia. Secondly, the one in Indonesia used a small budget so well you couldn't tell it had a small budget, while the one IN! SPACE! never let you forget for a second that they'd gone in without enough money. It's become a routine criticism of bad SF movies that they have the look and plot of computer games, but Lockout is the first one I've seen where the CGI really looked like a computer game. It turns out that there must be a CGI version of Serbia, where you go to save money on something which would be expensive somewhere nicer, and my word, CGI Serbia looks pretty crap. It's not good in the IN! SPACE! sequences, which are at about the level CGI used to amaze us with in things like The Last Starfighter. It's intrusively, eyewateringly bad earlier on in the movie, when for no particularly good reason Guy Pearce's character Snow makes a run for it on an improbable one-wheeled motorcycle. It's the climax of a completely unnecessary prologue to the main action where we get to see how Snow gets so boxed in that a one-man suicide mission to a space station seems like the best of his options. Another movie which Lockout  is nicked from, Escape from New York, got the same problem out of the way in five minutes flat without a special effect in sight, so you really have to marvel that they felt the need to blow part of the tiny CGI budget making us not believe for a second in Guy Pearce in a car chase to nowhere.

It's not like they didn't have a high concept they needed to be getting on with. The elevator pitch - I can only assume that the elevator was running from Hell - was A SPACE! PRISON! ONE MAN! CAN SAVE! THE PRESIDENT'S DAUGHTER! I could be wrong about this; I may not have used enough exclamation marks. But that's the schtick, folks. The US President's daughter is visiting SPACE! PRISON! and her inept security team manage to balls things up enough that a lone convict covered in shackles somehow kills them to bits and takes her hostage before releasing all 500 prisoners. And only Guy Pearce can save the day, mainly through the power of violence and sarcasm. Imagine you were some creepy lunatic scientist who flat out stole the DNA of Con Air, Escape from New York, Die Hard and a whole bunch of other movies that ought to be relieved I'm not associating them with this thing, and mixed them to make some monstrous hybrid. Now imagine that hybrid got sick and died, and rats ate the body. Imagine a flea on one of the rats. Not that one, the ugly one near the back. That's where Lockout fits into the scheme of things.

Because it's a philosophical impossibility for me to contemplate a villainous lair without wondering how it got planning permission and whether it came in under budget, there will now be an appalled digression as I weigh up the economics of SPACE! PRISON! Apparently in 2079, it's  cost effective to incarcerate people in orbit, which suggests that it's got super cheap to launch space rockets. Mind you, even if it has, I was scratching my head of the logic of putting convicts in space when they were also putting them into suspended animation. You could do that in a coal mine for a fraction of the cost and complication, though it wouldn't have made for quite the same elevator pitch to have Guy Pearce going down the mines, I suppose. Of course, space flight may have become essentially trivial, because they've figured out artificial gravity, or didn't have the budget to fake weightlessness (not that anyone but Chris Nolan ever has that kind of money). Rather than just have it as a line of dialogue, they staged a whole fight scene in the artificial gravity generator, a gadget the size of a grain silo and somehow less interesting. SPACE! PRISON! is incredibly big for a place which really only needed to be a kind of glorified egg box full of individual prisoner pods, and in the end I decided it only made economic sense in the same way that Iraq War made economic sense; for every lunatic waste of taxpayer's money, there's a Halliburton showing a record year for pre-tax earnings.

Snow eventually gets the President's daughter out of SPACE! PRISON!, but you knew that. Everyone else gets killed, including the head villain, who up to that point had been answering a question I didn't even know existed; "What if the magnificent Ray Stevenson had been separated at birth from his twin who was abducted by Scots headbangers?" In the future, not only do they have criminals so bad they need to be kept IN! SPACE!, but their natural leaders are all Scottish, which may surprise everyone but fans of the work of Neil Marshal.

Because there's something good to everything, let me end on a high note. On the one hand, Guy Pearce gets a lot of one-liners, some of which are even funny. And on the other hand, if this movie does nothing else, at least it makes it a racing certainty that when they make Die Hard 6, they'll have been warned off making it IN! SPACE!

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